Lea credits Mommy Ligaya for career success

Nathalie Tomada - The Philippine Star
Lea credits Mommy Ligaya for career success
‘It’s because of her unwavering belief in what I can do and what my brother (Gerard Salonga) can do, I don’t think we would be the kind of artists that we are today,’ the multi-awarded singer/actress said of her mother during a presscon for her sold-out Lea Salonga — The 40th Anniversary Concert on Oct. 19 and 20, at the Philippine International Convention Center.
Photos from Lea Salonga’s Instagram and website

MANILA, Philippines — What is Lea Salonga’s secret to success? It’s Mommy Ligaya.

Lea credited her mother for being the driving force of her storied and successful 40-year career in the entertainment business. 

“I’ve got to thank my mom. That’s pretty obvious. It’s because of her unwavering belief in what I can do and what my brother (Gerard Salonga) can do, I don’t think that we would be the kind of artists that we are,” the multi-awarded singer/actress said during a presscon for her sold-out Lea Salonga — The 40th Anniversary Concert on Oct. 19 and 20, at the Philippine International Convention Center.

“As my brother would joke around, ‘You gotta thank mom for her incessant nagging because it’s because of that we are who we are.’ It’s the nonstop reminders to do things and even though you’re just so inis already, you just know that she’s right. And it’s because of that, it’s the diligence and the discipline, and all of that comes from a place of love, that’s the thing.”

But for Mommy Ligaya, who at 81 now remains as Lea’s manager, the credit must go to her daughter. “It’s her talent that brought her up there. It’s just a little help from me because she was already known to be talented anyway,” she told The STAR on the sidelines of the recent presscon. “Maybe because I picked the right project for her or maybe because I’m not really in the limelight. I’m just sitting right here. I don’t really care. And also, the three of us (including Gerard), we all love each other. Maybe that’s it.”

In previous interviews, the theater star had said that Mommy Ligaya could put up a school for stage mothers, and that parents of showbiz kids can take a page from Ligaya’s book on how to be a “momager.”

Ligaya, for her part, stressed that she’s no stage mother to Lea, as well as to Gerard, who has also carved a name for himself as a musical director and orchestra conductor. “If you’re a stage mom, you cannot produce like that. Mag-ko-collapse na yan. I mean, (Lea) will be overworked. And I don’t accept a lot more than I can accept so that she’ll have time for her family, for herself. But she loves theater. There’s no way she won’t do it.” 

Did she always imagine Lea, whose last theater project was the 2017 Broadway revival of Once On This Island, reaching four decades in the industry? “You cannot really see that. I have no foresight for that. Because an artist can decide not to (continue), can get married or they don’t want to do any more movies. Pero siya passionate talaga siya sa theater eh.” 

Ligaya looked back on Lea’s first big break Miss Saigon, the Cameron Mackintosh musical that gave her daughter international fame and acclaim. Prior to Miss Saigon, Lea was active in local theater, making her professional debut when she was only 7 via Repertory Philippines’ 1978 staging of The King and I.

She said, “She was going to be in medicine. (Then) somebody hops in here and takes her away. You know, we had a hard time deciding whether she should audition or not for Miss Saigon. Ang sabi ko, she should audition because we don’t even know if she was going to qualify or not. So, just go and take it. Ateneo (where she planned to study) will always be there, it’s not going to go away. If you don’t make it there, you go back to your medicine. If you make it, you can always go back after a year, after you’ve done it. Hindi ko naman alam na magiging sunod-sunod na pala (laughs). And the rest is history!”

Singer Celeste Legaspi played an important role in how Lea was discovered by the British producer Mackintosh and his team. “They saw a picture of Celeste with Lea. Tinawagan at tinawagan ako. When it comes to my children at that age, parang feeling ko kung sino-sino lang ang mga taong iyan. Baka mag-take advantage, ma-paano pa yung anak ko. In the end, Celeste convinced me, ‘Di naman, they’re legit,’ so on and so forth. I researched who they were and sure enough, they were real! Wala pang Internet noon, landline lang. Kinausap ko lahat ng kakilala ko.”

When Lea was finally offered the opportunity to originate the lead role (as the bar girl Kim) in what would become a Tony award-winning West End and Broadway musical, Ligaya recalled how meticulous she was with the contract. “I was just lucky. Even though I wasn’t very professional at the time of Miss Saigon, I took the audacity to read and learn (the contract). I didn’t get a lawyer, I just read it myself. (I said) I’m okay with this, except for the costume, which I didn’t like. The bikini one. So, they had to put (something over the bikini). Ako yung nag-reklamo. Sabi ko marami pang baby fats si Lea (laughs). Pwede ba mga Caucasian lang nag-bi-bikini dyan, mga payat? All you need from her is her face and her voice. You’re not supposed to display her body. They were very nice naman to talk to her.”

Lea, Gerard and Mommy Ligaya

To this day, Ligaya goes over contracts with a fine-tooth comb. She deals with every little detail, including gowns for Lea’s events such as her upcoming two-night anniversary concert.     

“Anybody can’t just order her gowns, it’s gotta be me. Like with (designer) Rajo Laurel, he sends two samples of her gown. Lea will pick one, I will pick one and send it to Rajo. Rajo would go, ‘Oh my God Tita, you’re picking the same thing.’ Because she knows how I think eh. When I have an inquiry, I send it to (Lea) and if she likes it, I’ll work for it. If she says she doesn’t like it, I’ll say, she cannot do it.”

There’s one project that Lea and her fans want her to do, but Mommy Ligaya isn’t that keen on giving her go-signal. This is the possible big-screen reunion with Aga Muhlach, with whom Lea did two blockbuster movies in the ‘90s.

Ligaya explained, “I think, she’s already in a good place, she doesn’t need it. There are so many movie stars already. In this theater, she’s by herself.”

So, she would want more theater work for Lea? “No, not (more theater work). Whatever, I’m not naman choosy. She’s not choosy. (I want) something out of the ordinary.”

On a romantic movie team-up, Ligaya opined, “They’re too old for that.” 

“I don’t know. I haven’t read the script but I told them straight up that I’m not into movies,” she added.

The showbiz industry is replete with stories of mother-daughter tension and fighting over career moves and love life, etc. But Mommy Ligaya swears that Lea never went through a “rebellious” stage. “Not even in her love life. When I say no, it’s no. When I say, anak, I don’t like that guy too much, egotistical, when you talk to a guy, you know eh, nakikinig naman siya. Kunwari ‘Mom, I don’t think so.’ After a short while, break na (laughs),” said Ligaya, also recalling that Lea had her first boyfriend at the age of 25 “when I left her in New York.”

When asked how she made that possible, she said, “My secret? Because I took care of them so well when they were so little. I only allowed them to go on their own with the driver when they were in high school. First, (parents) have to sacrifice for them. It’s a sacrifice talaga! You wake up in the morning, you take care of them until they sleep at night. (As a kid,) Gerard will never go to the room in the school without me in the background. ‘Where’s my mom?’ He doesn’t know that I peeped into the window to check if the teacher was good or not.”

If she could give any advice to new “momagers,” Ligaya said, “All children are different kasi. What I’m saying is, all mothers have a different concept of their child. In my case, when they were born, I already dedicated my life to them. I gave up a lot of things for them just to take care of them, send them to school, etc.”

She continued, “There are mothers, who have the tendency to let their child work and work and work. But for me, it’s school. I also have an advice for DOLE (Department of Labor and Employment), for example, because they’re very strict with children. So that the children can work, they should have a tutor on the set, it is what the States do. In America kasi, there’s (tutoring) for three hours. I don’t know who produces the tutor, is it the producer, or is it the what? Yun nakita ko sa America. That’s why there are many child actors who grew up into big stars.” 

Every time Lea performs, Ligaya admitted to becoming emotional. “Naiiyak talaga ako sa concert. When you do something for your kids kasi you don’t think about it eh. You just let the day go on.”

But when her daughter goes on the stage to celebrate her 40th year as a singer, actress and stage star that brought pride to the country, that’s more than enough of a reminder that Mommy Ligaya didn’t just do something, but rather a lot for Lea and for the industry that’s lucky to have an artist like her.

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