Lea, Nicole, Joaquin: Filipino stars lead 3 theater shows in London

Filipino stars are headlining three of the biggest theater shows in London, led by the legendary Lea Salonga who became the toast of the West End in 1991 when she starred, and won the Olivier Award for, the original run of Miss Saigon.

This time, Salonga topbills the star-studded tribute concert Stephen Sondheim’s Old Friends, along with Broadway luminary Bernadette Peters. This marks Salonga’s return to the West End 27 years after she did Eponine in Les Misérables in 1996.

The two other artists of Filipino descent starring in London musicals are Nicole Scherzinger, who has earned raves for her sensational turn as faded silent-film star Norma Desmond in the revival of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Sunset Boulevard, and Joaquin Pedro Valdes, who’s appearing in another Sondheim production, Pacific Overtures.

“Starting tonight, three shows in London will be led by three actors of Filipino descent,” Salonga wrote on Facebook on 26 November.

“I can’t think of a time in recent history that this has happened, and to say how thrilled I am is a major understatement!!” she added.

During the opening night of Stephen Sondheim’s Old Friends on 3 October, Salonga said it was a “privilege of a lifetime” to be a part of the concert revue, which producer Cameron Mackintosh is reportedly thinking of bringing over to Broadway in New York following stellar reviews.

Grammy and Olivier nominee Scherzinger, meanwhile — born to a Filipino father and Hawaiian-Ukrainian mother — expressed her gratitude to Salonga on 3 November in an Instagram photo when Salonga came to watch her show.

“My heart is full. I got to meet my childhood theatre idol, Miss Saigon herself @msleasalonga. Thank you for coming to our show @sunsetblvdmusical,” Scherzinger wrote.

Finally, Valdes, who had a long list of musical-theater credits in Manila before eventually establishing a busy career in London (he made his West End debut in Heathers the Musical in 2021), is starring as John Manjiro in Pacific Overtures — a musical set in 19th-century Japan and the changes that occurred during the country’s westernization.

“Going deeper and deeper into the character of John Manjiro and the text of Pacific Overtures means going deeper and deeper into this ‘space’. And it is proving itself to be equally satisfying and challenging,” wrote Valdes in an Instagram post on 12 November.

Both Stephen Sondheim’s Old Friends and Sunset Boulevard premiered on 21 September and will run for 16 weeks until 6 January at the Gielgud Theater and Savoy Theater, respectively.

Pacific Overtures will have its opening night on 4 December at the Umeda Arts Theater.