With a voice that's both warm and powerful, Lea Salonga is a Tony Award-winning singer and actress known for a lengthy stage résumé that includes originating the role of Kim in Miss Saigon. She's also known as the singing voice of not one but two Disney princesses (Jasmine and Mulan), and as an international recording artist with album sales in the tens of millions. A native of the Philippines, she was the first Asian woman to win a Tony Award (1991), the first Filipino to sign with an international record label (1993), and is one of the best-selling Filipino artists of all time.
Born Maria Lea Carmen Imutan Salonga in Manila, and raised in Angeles City and Manila, Salonga made her professional stage debut in 1978 as a seven-year-old in The King and I. She followed that with a steady childhood career on-stage, appearing in musicals such as Annie and The Sound of Music before recording her first solo album, Small Voice (1981), at the age of ten. The album was certified gold in the Philippines, and Salonga went on to host her own musical TV series, Love, Lea. Continuing to take roles in musical theater throughout her teens, she released her second album, Lea, in 1988. It became a multi-platinum hit in Asia.
Salonga had her intercontinental breakthrough when she was cast as Vietnamese peasant Kim in Miss Saigon, which premiered on the West End's Drury Lane in September 1989. She also originated the role on Broadway in April 1991. Among other accolades, she took home an Olivier Award and a Tony Award for her portrayal of Kim. In 1992, she was heard by generations of filmgoers worldwide as the singing voice of Jasmine in Disney's Aladdin. The 1993 Academy Award winner for Best Original Song, "A Whole New World," featured Salonga on lead, and she performed the ballad with co-star Brad Kane on the Oscars broadcast. Later that year, her third LP, titled Lea Salonga, was released to an international audience by Atlantic Records. It reached number 25 on the Billboard Heatseekers Albums chart. That same year, she also took over the role of Éponine in Broadway's Les Misérables.
To finish out the '90s, Salonga released the album I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing (1997) and sang the part of another Disney princess, Mulan (1998). The soundtrack included her version of "Reflection" from the film as well as a pop version by Christina Aguilera. That year, she also issued the solo LP Lea...In Love, which was followed by 1999's By Heart. Her first Christmas album saw release in 2000. In the meantime, she appeared in the 1999 off-Broadway musical Making Tracks. The cast album became available in 2001, as did the Salonga release Songs from the Screen. She returned to Broadway in 2002 for the revival of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Flower Drum Song, and in January 2004, Salonga married businessman Robert Charles Chien. Later that year, she sang on the straight-to-video release Mulan II, with the soundtrack following in early 2005. She took time off to give birth to their daughter Nicole in 2006.
Salonga returned with studio albums including 2007's Inspired and 2009's Lea Salonga: Your Songs. In the meantime, she toured Asia as the lead in Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella. Cinderella [Original International Tour Cast Recording] arrived on Lakeshore Records in 2010. Salonga made her cabaret debut that year, selling out a three-week series of concerts at Café Carlyle in New York City. A live recording of the show, Lea Salonga: The Journey So Far, was released by LML Music in 2011.
The singer began a stint as a judge on the TV competition The Voice of the Philippines in 2013. She was also an original judge on the spin-off The Voice Kids, which premiered in 2014. In November 2015, she starred with George Takei in the Broadway production of the Jay Kuo musical Allegiance. It was inspired by Takei's experiences being forced into an internment camp in Wyoming during WWII. The original Broadway cast recording followed on the Broadway label in 2016. In 2017, Salonga released the album Blurred Lines as well as Bahaghari: Rainbow, a collection of traditional folk songs from the Philippines. In December of that year, a revival of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty's Once on This Island also opened on Broadway, with Salonga in the role of Erzulie. The cast album saw release in 2018. ~ Marcy Donelson