Lea Salonga began doing musical theater at 7 years old. When she was working in London on Miss Saigon, she decided, “Okay. This is really going to be it and I’m not going to be doing anything else in my life.”
In 1991, Lea won the Tony for Leading Actress in a Musical in that role on Broadway, becoming the first actress of Asian descent to win the prize. She went on to voice the characters of Princess Jasmine and Mulan, among others.
Below are her top six movie musicals to watch. And click here to read more about Lea’s perspective on the legacy of Mulan.
The Sound of Music
Because Julie Andrews is everything. I think that might have been one of the first movie musicals I really saw and fell in love with. I think the children being in it were also a gateway for me into falling in love with that particular one.
Once again, Julie Andrews. And, of course, Dick Van Dyke and the music and how they superimposed animation with live action. This would become something that was not just beautiful, but also groundbreaking and so entertaining.
I loved everything about it, from how charming the lead actress was to seeing John Travolta really take on that role. I also loved him in Grease and Saturday Night Fever and, of course, Welcome Back, Kotter. He was just so magnetic and someone whose magnetism would not be covered up, even under a fat suit and a lot of makeup. It was that charm, and the dance moves just were wonderful.
But everybody in that movie was so great. And it also blew my mind whenever he and Michelle Pfeiffer were on the screen together because of like, “Okay, there’s Grease and Grease 2. This is just too much for my mind to handle.” I was probably one of the very few people that actually really, really loved Grease 2. But my brother and I saw the movie I don’t know how many times. It was so fun.
And then of course there’s Grease. Just everything about it. I remember seeing it in the theater and I remember seeing it on home video. Even though you see the girl conforming to what she thinks a guy likes, with the cigarettes and the sexy outfit ... but I guess we also saw that he liked the girl who was just the goody two-shoes. Maybe there could be a better ending for that movie, but it is what it is.
It’s still a lot of fun to watch, seeing Stockard Channing for the first time and Olivia Newton-John singing “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” which was never in the musical [that the film is based on]. And then there’s “Summer Nights.” Just such beautiful music.
The Wizard of Oz
If it counts as a movie musical. I think it does. The minute Judy Garland started opening her mouth with “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” it’s like, “Okay. That’s it. I’m sitting here for the next one and a half hours.”
It was magical: The change from black-and-white to Technicolor and then back to black-and-white, and how all these characters just came to life. I can’t imagine how grueling that shooting schedule must have been on everybody. But it ended up turning into something so magical for so many generations.
The Little Mermaid
I’m going to lump all of the Disney musicals together. Just all of them because they’re a gateway for so many young people to fall in love with the Broadway musical. And there were quite a few of those musicals also that became stage musicals, The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, which ran forever, Aladdin, Hunchback of Notre Dame, which a bunch of my friends in different parts of the world got to do. ... All of them are, to quote Princess Jasmine, “so magical.”
So I think it’s wonderful that people fall in love with another medium thanks to these films.