After a sold-out engagement last April, Lea Salonga has returned to Feinstein’s/54 Below to do what she does best…entertain. Her voice rich in texture, wraps around a song and nourishes it with an emotional connection to the lyric. It is simple and complex in the same breath. Who ever created her arrangements is a musical genius, because in the case of the blending of the Lennon-McCartney hit “Blackbird” with Kander and Ebb’s “A Quiet Thing” from Flora The Red Menace, songs I knew before because hypnotic. Ms. Solanga takes the celebration of the civil rights movement and attaches it to optimism quietly felt.
Ironically the Disney princess (Jasmine in Aladdin and Mulan in Mulan) starts off with her weakest number, the Rodgers and Hart classic “I’ll Take Manhattan.” It’s not that she sings it badly, it just kinda sits there, but then she peals like a rare blossom first with a jazzy version of Victor Young / Ned Washington’s “My Foolish Heart” and then the mash up of “Blackbird” and “A Quiet Thing.” Suddenly Ms. Salonga has you in the palm of her hand. Smartly she weaves together standards, pop tunes, and Broadway ballads with an amazing duo of musicians. Her music director Jeff Harris on piano and Jack Cavari on guitar, and you have the perfect blend for an evening that just keeps getting better and better.
In “Story of My Life’ there are a mash up of tunes by Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Harry Styles, Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson, Julian Bunetta, Jamie Scott, and John Ryan
Leon Russell classic “A Song for You” and the Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” becomes the desperate longing of unrequited love, as a bitter defeat is admitted. It is raw, painful and satisfying.
Tracey Chapman’s “Fast Car” is a speeding chase, that slows to a stop with Jeff Blumenkrantz / Annie Kessler and Libby Saines song “I Won’t Mind,” brought to life by Audra McDonald.
Back to standards with George & Ira Gershwin’s “Nice Work If You Can Get It.”
John Legend ‘s “All of Me” showed the passion of love while Robin Thicke, Cliff Harris, Jr., and Pharrell Williams “Blurred Lines” showed the carnal sexual version. You could feel the heat this song was so hot!
Michel Legrand and Marilyn & Alan Bergman’s “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?” coupled with the great Irving Berlin’s “How Deep is the Ocean?” brought to mind how to keep a relationship in tact and ran the gauntlet of emotions.
Salonga, who is a Tony, Olivier, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle Award winner for originating the role of Kim in Miss Saigon and appeared in both the 10th and 25th Anniversary concerts of Les Miserables, knew her audience wanted to hear her hits and she obliges in the perfect encore.
One of the things you learn in this show is just how witty, warm and layered Ms. Salonga is. This is a show not to be missed and if you are not a fan of this amazing performer, you will be by the end of the night.