At Home With Disney and ‘Miss Saigon’
A bright, utilitarian voice that sweeps across continents as it conjures the aspirations of the inner princesses in millions of nice young women from Manila to London: no, it’s not Celine Dion, but Lea Salonga, the demure 39-year-old Philippine star whose autobiographical show, “The Journey So Far,” opened a three-week engagement at Café Carlyle on Tuesday evening.
Ms. Salonga is the vocal personification of what might be called the Broadway and Hollywood international style, which embraces Disney songs, Rodgers and Hammerstein ballads and the anthems of Schönberg and Boublil. Hers is a talent groomed to express inspirational generalities that please most of the people most of the time without taxing their emotions. Beyond an eagerness to please, impersonality is its signature quality.
The show-business history Ms. Salonga related in the agreeable tone of a friendly saleswoman helps explain the formation of such a sensibility. A child star in the Philippines, she made her professional debut at 7 in “The King and I” and starred in the title role of “Annie.” That track led her to the role of Kim, which she originated in “Miss Saigon” in London in 1989. Back then she was so innocent, she recalled, that the director, Nicholas Hytner, had to demonstrate the onstage love scenes step by step. She later played both Éponine and Fantine in “Les Misérables.” Her voice has been heard in “Aladdin” and in two “Mulan” movies.
Backed by a functional quartet under the direction of Larry Yurman, Ms. Salonga touched many of these bases on Tuesday, with some forays into Philippine music. Like most singers who rely on various degrees of declamation, Ms. Salonga was most appealing when she relaxed and sang a sweet, low-key rendition of “Someone to Watch Over Me,” accompanied by a single guitar. Especially in an intimate space like Café Carlyle, the cliché applies: Less is more.