Lea recalls humiliation: I was called 'bulok'

Posted at 08/21/2013 5:18 PM | Updated as of 08/21/2013 6:28 PM
Lea Salonga is one of the four coaches on the ABS-CBN reality talent search 'The Voice of the Philippines.' Photo: Handout

Broadway star talks about husband Rob

MANILA -- Before winning a Tony award and being dubbed a "Disney Legend," Lea Salonga came at a crossroads in her career when she was humiliated in the presence of her colleagues as a 9-year-old.

Now 42, the Broadway star recalled a "jarring" experience being called "bulok" by her director in a stage play. At the time, Salonga said she had to decide whether to be disheartened to the point of quitting or simply be challenged.

"You're 9 years old, and your director says this in front of the whole company. It can motivate you to do really well, or you'll buckle, cry and quit. It's better that you hear it early, before anything creeps in na nag-i-illusion na magaling ka," she said.

Speaking with "Showbiz Inside Report" co-host Carmina Villaroel in a recent interview, Salonga said nurturing the talent was encouraged by her mother and being surrounded by musically inclined family members.

"Hindi niya (Salonga's mother) akalain it would turn into this, eh. But I had one cousin who was very active in theater. I would sing at family parties tapos doon nag-umpisa," she said.

Making it big

As early as 7, Salonga already had professional stints in the local theater scene. Ten years and several film and stage roles later, she landed the dream role that would introduce her to an international audience.

Referring to her award-winning portrayal of Kim in the West End musical "Miss Saigon," Salonga recalled adjusting to the demands of playing an innocent teen who is forced to become a bar girl in war-torn Vietnam.

"I was brought up very conservative. The demands of the role require kissing scenes, and there are the costumes where minsan naka-t-shirt ka lang and your underwear... The director (Nicholas Hytner) had to get into bed with my leading man to show me what he wanted me to do," she said.

As it happened, Salonga's take on Kim won her trophies from the prestigious Antoinette Perry Award for Excellence in Theatre or the Tony Awards, and the Laurence Olivier Awards.

As she hit a stride in her international career, which also saw her do the singing voices of Disney characters Princess Jasmine and Fa Mulan, Salonga also made a turn in her personal life.

Meeting Rob

By then a celebrated Filipina talent, Salonga met her would-be husband, Robert Chien, while doing the musical "Flower Drum Song" in 2002.

But as the singer recalled, they didn't hit it off right away. Salonga said she had only recently separated from a former boyfriend when she became friends with Chien.

"Pinsan niya, kasama ko sa show. The next time I saw Rob, kaka-break up ko lang. Ayoko naman maging rebound 'yung [pagkakaibigan namin]," she said.

The next time she saw Chien, Salonga related, he started to invite her out for dinner. On the first of many dates, the two instantly made a connection.

"At a friend's birthday, pinagtabi na kami ng pinsan niya. Simula no'n, he'd ask me out for dinner and I'd say yes. The first date was seven hours long. By the end of that week, that was it, kami na," she said.

Two years later in 2004, Salonga and Chien got married. They have one daughter, Nicole Beverly.