Lea Salonga was only 20 years old when she stepped up the podium to accept the Best Actress Tony for her heartbreaking portrayal of Kim in Miss Saigon. (Amazingly enough, she had first played the demanding role of the doomed young Vietnamese mother at age 18 in the musical’s original London production.) Since then, Salonga has been a superstar in her native Philippines, a popular concert artist around the world, and has returned to Broadway periodically, including a 2007 stint as Fantine in Les Miserables. She may have been young, but Salonga was perfectly poised on Tony night. Below, her memories of the event.
Which year did you win your first Tony?
My only Tony so far: 1991.
For which role and show?
I won for playing Kim in Miss Saigon.
Where were the awards held?
The Minskoff Theatre
Julie Andrews and Jeremy Irons (he wore sneakers with his tux, and she sang a medley of her most memorable songs).
What did you wear?
I wore a pantsuit designed by a Filipino designer named Inno Sotto. I still have the outfit…I could never part with it!
Who was sitting next to you?
My brother Gerard was my date for the night.
Who did you think would win your category?
It would be arrogant to say that I thought I would win, but since I won all the other awards leading up to the Tonys, I felt I had the strongest chance of taking it home that night.
What was the first thing that ran through your mind when they said your name?
OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD!!!!!!
Did you forget to thank anyone?
I had rehearsed my speech (thank goodness), so I let muscle memory take over. I was shaking in my heels! So no, I didn’t forget anyone.
Did you cry?
Nope, I didn’t. I was floating on cloud nine!
If you could relive that night, would you change anything?
No, I would not change a single thing.
Who were you most surprised to hear from after your win?
I can’t remember. I guess I had no expectations, so everyone who called was a surprise.
Did winning a Tony change your life? How?
It changed my life in the sense that the realm of what was possible was just so much more open to me and every entertainer with the dream of making it—be it on Broadway, the West End, L.A. or Vegas. There are still many who hold that dream close and dear, and that Tony Award symbolizes what is within reach for performers like me. As for me personally, it upped my profile back home, that’s for sure!
What’s your biggest memory of the night?
Oh my goodness, just being at the Tonys was a huge memory enough!!!
What’s the best piece of advice you can offer for getting through Tony night?
Try to stay relaxed, and have no expectations either way. Oh, and bring a camera to take photos of whatever you can. That’s the one thing I regret. Then again, that was before the arrival of digital cameras!
Where do you keep your Tony?
At my mother’s house in Manila. She enjoys it far more than I do, I think!