mahiwaga

I'm not really all that mysterious

killing me softly with her song

A little more than a week ago, I watched Lea Salonga perform at Harrah’s Rincon.

Lea SalongaHarrah's Rincon

Harrah’s Rincon

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I first found out about her about 15 years ago because of N, naturally. At the time, N was obsessed with “Miss Saigon” and I ended up learning the lyrics to “Last Night of the World.” For those of you who have never heard of this musical(!), it’s basically a remake of Puccini’s opera “Madame Butterfly”, except set in Saigon during the Vietnam War. I wouldn’t learn about post-modernism, post-colonialism, and deconstructionism for another two or three years (and wouldn’t learn about Derrida for another ten years!) so I blithely accepted it and listened to the soundtrack ad nauseam. To this day, I have yet to actually watch it.

Miss Saigon

It seems that Lea Salonga was the first Filipino to breakthrough into mainstream “high” culture. She didn’t sing pop songs or act in cheesy/raunchy B-movies. She actually did theater, and no doubt inspired a whole cadre of Filipino women to aspire to show business. (LzC has been living her dream in NYC, and LeeA has a part in a small production of “Miss Saigon” playing in Healdsburg, California. In high school, I had a bit part in the musical “Gypsy”. The woman who played the eponymous protagonist was the understudy for Kim in the Toronto production of “Miss Saigon”)

"Last Night of the World" by Lea Salonga and Simon Bowman • Miss Saigon (Original London Cast)

I actually watched her in concert at the Universal Amphitheater back in 1992. The place was packed, from what I can remember.


Later that year, she sang the part of Jasmine from the animated movie “Aladdin”. This was the first time that Disney hired separate people to do the voice acting versus the actual singing.

"A Whole New World" by Lea Salonga and Brad Kane • Aladdin Motion Picture Soundtrack

That winter, N went to the Philippines and brought back a copy of the soundtrack from the Filipino movie “Bakit Labis Kitang Mahal” (roughly, “why do I love you so much?”)

Bakit Labis Kitang Mahal

The track that I listened to on repeat, over and over again, until the lyrics burned into my brain, was this melodramatic paean to unrequited love: “Nandito Ako” (I’ll be here)

Mayroon akong nais malaman.
There’s something I want you to know.
Maaari bang magtanong?
Would it be right to ask?
Alam mo bang matagal na kitang iniibig?
Do you know that I’ve loved you for a long time?
Matagal na ‘kong naghihintay.
I’ve waited for a long while.
Ngunit mayroon kang ibang minamahal,
But there’s been someone else that you love.
kung kaya’t ako’y ‘di mo pinapansin.
and so you’ve never noticed me
Ngunit ganoon pa man nais kong malaman mo:
But even then, I still want you to know
ang puso kong ito’y para lang sa iyo.
my heart will only be yours.
Nandito ako umiibig sa iyo,
I’ll be here, loving you
kahit na nagdurugo ang puso.
even though my heart bleeds
Kung sakali iwanan ka niya,
and if he ever leaves you
huwag kang magalala,
don’t worry
may nagmamahal sa iyo,
there’s someone who loves you
nandito ako.
I’ll be here
Kung ako ay iyong iibigin,
If I were your beloved
‘di kailangan nang mangamba.
there’d be no need to fret
Pagka’t ako ay para mong alipin.
I’m a slave for you
Sa iyo lang wala nang iba
for you only, there is no other
Ngunit mayroon kang ibang minamahal,
But there’s been someone else that you love.
kung kaya’t ako’y ‘di mo pinapansin.
and so you’ve never noticed me
Ngunit ganoon pa man nais kong malaman mo:
But even then, I still want you to know
ang puso kong ito’y para lang sa iyo.
my heart will only be yours.
Nandito ako umiibig sa iyo,
I’ll be here, loving you
kahit na nagdurugo ang puso.
even though my heart bleeds
Kung sakali iwanan ka niya,
and if he ever leaves you
huwag kang magalala,
don’t worry
may nagmamahal sa iyo,
there’s someone who loves you
nandito ako.
I’ll be here

—”Nandito Ako” by Lea Salonga

"Nandito Ako" by Lea Salonga

This song fucking kills me.


She came out with a mainstream album back in 1993, with a great song entitled “Journey”

"The Journey" by Lea Salonga

Half the world is sleeping.
Half the world awake.
Half can hear their hearts beat.
Half just hear them break.

I am but a traveler
in most every way.
Ask me what you want to know.

What a journey it has been,
and the end is not in sight.
But the stars are out tonight,
and they’re bound to guide my way.
When they’re shining on my life,
I can see a better day.
I won’t let the darkness in.
What a journey it has been.

I have been through sorrow.
I have been to bliss.
Where I’ll be tomorrow,
I can only guess.
Through the darkest desert,
through the deepest snow,
forward—always forward—I go.

What a journey it has been,
and the end is not in sight.
But the stars are out tonight,
and they’re bound to guide my way.
When they’re shining on my life,
I can see a better day.
I won’t let the darkness in.
What a journey it has been.

Forward, always forward.
Onward, always up.
Catching every drop of hope
in my empty cup.

What a journey it has been,
and the end is not in sight.
But the stars are out tonight,
and they’re bound to guide my way.
When they’re shining on my life,
I can see a better day.
I won’t let the darkness in.
What a journey it has been.
—”The Journey” by Lea Salonga

When A, B, E, JdG, and I graduated from college, we did this little project where each of us would copy a song that signified our college experience to cassette tape(!), and then pass it on to the next person, and we’d keep going until we ran out of tape. So this song naturally ended up on there.


In 1998, Disney released the movie “Mulan”

"Reflection" by Lea Salonga • Mulan Motion Picture Soundtrack

I finally watched “Les Miserables” in 1997 when my parents, my brother, my sister, and I went to NYC, and the song that always kills me is “On My Own”

"On My Own" by Lea Salonga • Les Misérables • 10th Anniversary Concert Cast

And now I’m all alone again,
no where to turn, no one to go to,
without a hope, without a friend, without a face to say hello to.
But now the night is near,
and I can make believe he’s here.

Sometimes I walk alone at night
when everybody else is sleeping.
I think of him and then I’m happy
with the company I’m keeping.
The city goes to bed
and I can live inside my head.

On my own,
pretending he’s beside me.
All alone, I walk with him till morning.
Without him,
I feel his arms around me,
and when I lose my way, I close my eyes,
and he has found me.

In the rain the pavement shines like silver.
All the lights are misty in the river.
In the darkness, the trees are full of starlight,
and all I see is him and me for ever and forever.

And I know it’s only in my mind,
that I’m talking to myself and not to him.
And although I know that he is blind,
still I say there’s a way for us.

I love him,
but when the night is over,
he is gone, the river’s just a river.
Without him the world around me changes.
The trees are bare and everywhere
the streets are full of strangers.

I love him,
but every day I’m learning
all my life I’ve only been pretending.
Without me his world will go on turning,
a world that’s full of happiness
that I have never known!

I love him.
I love him.
I love him.
But only on my own.
—Eponine from “Les Miserables”

I always get teary-eyed when she gets to the stanza that goes “I love him/but every day I’m learning/all my life I’ve only been pretending/Without me his world will go on turning/a world that’s full of happiness/that I have never known!” When she holds that last note, it just gets me right here.

Seriously, I had to blink back some tears. I am such a sucker for unrequited love.

"A Little Fall of Rain" by Lea Salonga and Michael Ball • Les Misérables • 10th Anniversary Concert Cast

But if “On My Own” kills me, “A Little Fall of Rain” absolutely obliterates me.

Don’t you fret, M’sieur Marius,
I don’t feel any pain.
A little fall of rain
can hardly hurt me now.
You’re here, that’s all I need to know.
And you will keep me safe,
and you will keep me close,
and rain will make the flowers grow.

—But you will live, ‘Ponine! Dear God above!
—If I could heal your wounds with words of love!

Just hold me now, and let it be.
Shelter me, comfort me.

—You would live a hundred years
—if I could show you how.
—I won’t desert you now….

The rain can’t hurt me now.
This rain will wash away what’s past.
And you will keep me safe,
and you will keep me close.
I’ll sleep in your embrace at last.

The rain that brings you here
is Heaven-blessed!
The skies begin to clear
and I’m at rest.
A breath away from where you are.
I’ve come home from so far.

So don’t you fret, M’sieur Marius.
—Hush-a-bye, dear Eponine.
I don’t feel any pain.
—You won’t feel any pain.
A little fall of rain
—A little fall of rain
can hardly hurt me now.
—can hardly hurt you now.

—I’m here.

That’s all I need to know.
And you will keep me safe,
—I will stay with you
and you will keep me close,
—’til you are sleeping.

And rain…

—And rain…

will make the flowers…

—will make the flowers… grow….

—Eponine and Marius from “Les Miserables”

When he finishes the last line without her, I just want to bawl.


I’m hoping to find a complete video of Lea Salonga singing “Defying Gravity” from “Wicked” at Carnegie Hall in November 2005. “Wicked” is yet another musical that I haven’t actually watched, but have listened to the soundtrack a hundred times. This song still gets to me, too. It would be interesting to see Lea as Elphaba.

"Defying Gravity" by Lea Salonga

So it seems that I’ve followed her career over the past 15 years, with her songs serving to mark my progress on my own timeline.

What a trip down memory lane.

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