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Lea Salonga on 'Fun Home,' working with Eric Kunze

MANILA, Philippines – After a victorious third season of The Voice Kids, Lea Salonga is back onstage as she stars as Helen Bechdel in the Tony Award-winning musical Fun Home. The show marked its international premiere on November 10 in the Philippines.

During an interview with reporters at a press conference for the musical last Friday, November 3, Lea talked about the process rehearsing for the production. According to a release, Fun Home marks Lea's return to Philippine theater after God of Carnage in 2012.

"I feel like I’ve been isolated in a closet for so long. I don’t know what’s happening. I’ve been so focused on our little show. But it’s nice to be able to do a musical at home. it’s nice that it’s this one," she said, talking about rehearsals. 

"It’s not happy, happy [musical], none of that but... We do tackle some sensitive subject matter, hence our parental advisory. I mean teenagers can go and we actually encourage them to go, because I think they are at the right age, where it’s good to have more and deeper discussion topics that we tackle in the show."

Lea added: "And it’s nice that it's this one because it doesn’t just tackle sexuality or gender identity... it’s really about about this woman trying to find that relationship which she had with her father."

Fun Home is based on the memoir by Alison Bechdel. The show sees Alison in 3 different stages, tackling not just about her identity, but also her childhood moments playing at the family funeral home business, and her relationship with family, most especially her father. 

Lea even went to watch the show in New York when director Bobby Garcia pitched the idea of bringing it to the Philippines.

She also said that Bobby asked her to look at the role of Helen when they were talking about doing the show. At the time she watched the production in New York, a good friend of hers, Judy Kuhn, played Helen.

"I think my response to him (Bobby) was something of 'Oh my god Bobby, there are so many women in Manila that can totally relate to her. There are plenty. We know so many of them. Oh my God, when they come and see it, they will see themselves in her.'

"And so I think there will be a lot of people who that will find themselves able to relate to one of the characters in the show," she said.  

When asked if she thought Helen is by far her the most psychologically draining role to date, Lea said yes. 

"Much more. I mean people identify me with Kim, Eponine, Fantine and all of them that die in the show... Kim is a vocal nightmare. Eponine and Fantine by comparison, they are psychological [challenging]. Fantine is more a little cuckoo and it’s kind of hard to shake that. But this one is hard to shake this one, is really hard to shake, only because I only know actual real people like her, and I draw on these actual real people to create this character," she said.

In order to distance herself from the role after rehearsals, Lea would distract herself by spending time with her husband and her daughter Nicole, or simply having some comfort food. 

On reuniting with Eric Kunze, playing older roles

Aside from going back to Philippine theater, Fun Home also reunites Lea with her Les Miserables co-star Eric Kunze. Eric played Marius to Lea's Eponine 23 years ago on Broadway. (READ: Lea Salonga to star in PH production of 'Fun Home'

 

"I don't die in his arms anymore," Lea said in jest. " But I mean you know, when you die in somebody's arms, and when you're just covered in fake blood and he had to deal with that 8 times a week, there are no barriers anymore between the two of you. 

"And I think because of that experience, I was thankful for that experience, that when we have to do this, we have to fight on stage. I mean we're not people who always like each other on stage. But we like each other in real life and we trust each other in life that as difficult as some of these things to say to another human being, the work is easier because it's with him, because it's with somebody like him," she said.

"It's like there's no filter, it's just we do the work, absolutely professional, but there's so much trust that I place in his hands," she added. 

. @MsLeaSalonga on working with Les Miserables co-star Eric Kunze. pic.twitter.com/faBBhGZIyB — alexa villano (@alexavillano) November 7, 2016

 

During the roundtable interview, Lea was also asked about a post she shared on social media about being indispensable. Lea posted a quote on Instagram saying: "No matter how good you are, you can always be replaced."

Word. Learned this lesson early, and have seen it in action. A photo posted by Lea Salonga (@msleasalonga) on Oct 25, 2016 at 10:14am PDT

 

"It’s not so much [about being] laos (outdated). I’m 45 years old. By some miracle of God, I’m still relevant and I’m happy that there are roles like this [Helen] which are age-appropriate. I’m mean it's I’m 45 and she’s a 40-something-year-old woman, like yehey! I don’t feel so weird because normally I would either play a younger, like 10 years younger or what, and that seems to happen. And to get a role like this where she’s around the same age as me is like such a gift," she said.

"But going back to your question, is do I have fear? Well if people don’t want to see me on TV or buy tickets to my concert, then okay, then I can teach. I can continue coaching, maybe you know write more, or what. But I don't know, I think God’s not yet done with me yet."

Lea on doing roles for her age. pic.twitter.com/k2W5ZS5gWG — alexa villano (@alexavillano) November 7, 2016

 

As for what she expects the audience to learn from the show, Lea said: 

"I’m hoping that the conversations that do take place are not only centered on sexuality, that I’m hoping that they also center on mental health, that we also touch on that a little bit," she said. 

Other cast members include Cris Villonco who will play the role of Alison with Mikee Bradshaw-Volante as middle Alison and Katie Bradshaw and Andee Achacoso alternating as little Alison. Laurence Mossman will play the roles of Roy/Pete/Mark and Bobby Jeremy. Yanah Laurel as Joan and Ronan Crisologo, Daniel Drilon and Teddy Velasco  alternating as Christian.

Fun Home runs at the Carlos P Romulo Auditorium in RCBC Plaza, Makati City. – Rappler.com