…for an hour and ended up only using three quotes from her. You can find the quotes as part of this article. There are certain people that as a journalist, you wait your entire career to interview, because they mean so much to you on a personal level. Lea Salonga is one of those people for me (more on that here). So you can imagine the happy dance I did when I knew that she would be calling me. It looked something like this.
What was only supposed to be a quick, 30 minutes conversation turned into a discussion that lasted more than an hour. Then again, when two Asians get together to talk about race and representation, opinions will ignite. So I wanted to include some valuable soundbites that I couldn’t use, as a way of preserving it for posterity/in case I ever lose the transcript.
Here are some Lea Thoughts!
Why she wanted to do Allegiance:
“For me, I felt a very strong personal connection, because my husband is Japanese, which makes my daughter automatically Japanese-American too. I wanted to do this piece [because] one: it’s just a damn good one. It really is! I’m not saying that because I’m in it. And two: this is a part of my daughter’s history, this is a part of my husband’s history also. And it’s important for them to know what happened.”
On how relevant the story of Allegiance is right now:
“You see the news, and you see people in the name of their religion willingly and overtly and blatantly violate the constitutional right of another human being. You see how people, after 9/11, immediately changed their viewpoint on Muslim population. And then you see the talks of immigration and how it’s become very political. And then here comes our show. It COULD NOT HAVE BEEN a more relevant piece given the things that’s beens on the news and what’s on people’s lips. It could not have arrived on Broadway at a more perfect time.
“Whenever I think about it, I’m in my costume, in my wigs and I have a microphone in my hair, and I’m putting this character up. And bringing her to life, there are then these thoughts that enter my mind of oh my gosh, I could not have foreseen how this piece, that I am helping to prepare for, I could not have foreseen, I could not have anticipated in any way the relevancy of this. Three years ago I could not have foreseen this, and we were onstage at the old globe hoping for a Broadway bow soon after. And I’m thankful that it didn’t happen until now.”
On the continuing controversy of Miss Saigon:
“Stafford Arima [the director of Allegiance] has actually directed a production of Saigon. The thing is, when there is an Asian-American that is taking on a piece like Saigon, that’s something to take notice of….
“As long as there is a very authentic perspective somewhere. As long as a show is being put on its feet and coming form a very authentic perspective, that’ll definitely be something that’s worth watching. But if it’s coming from a place of, if a producer is being a complete ignoramus and putting the show up without giving thought to any sort of authenticity, then I stand with the protestors at that point.
“But I think Miss Saigon will always be a contentious piece. But I will always look upon it with love. I always will and I will always be grateful.”
On what constitutes racial progress in theater:
“There’s various ways of being able to do it. I’ve been very lucky, because of Cameron MacKintosh. I don’t know if anyone can take a leap of faith and cast me in something outside of being an Asian person. For a piece like Allegiance, for someone like George Takei to say, Lea is the only voice we wanted for this character. One, I feel incredibly flattered. And I guess I’ve gotten to a point of personal progress that my name specifically is what is looked for. And in another progression, I get to help create and shape a character. And this character is based on my skill set.”
On whether the musical theater landscape has changed for Asian-American artists:
“When I’m watching a random Broadway show, I will see more Asians getting employment. Maybe two or three in the cast of Newsies. I will see Asians in the cast of Les Miz. In shows where race is not another main character. But for me, progress is a piece like Allegiance being up on its feet. Where it is Asian America. There is many stories of Asian American in this country, THIS IS ONE, and it’s a BIG one. It’s a HUGE story.
….For me, progress is actually being able to put on a piece like Allegiance on the biggest stage in the world and to have it absolutely spot on in its characterization, in its tone, in its design, in its leadership, in its portrayals onstage. And the design elements everywhere. That for me is progress, because I don’t know if we could have been able to do something like this 25 years ago.”