Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Ms. Lea's Fairy Tale Life


A few weeks ago, our friends (theatre artist Norman Penaflorida and economist Joseph Lim) handed out to us several technical rehearsal tickets to Lea’s concert at the PICC. The lucky group included two of Lea’s most loyal fans—my tiang Caring and my friend (and one of the country’s leading radiologists) Cesar Co. Ever since I can remember, they’ve watched—singly or together—every Lea concert or musicale she has appeared in.

My tiang Caring’s obsession began many, many years ago when she saw Lea as the red haired, button-eyed Annie. Cesar discovered Lea much later wearing a two piece bikini. When Ms. Saigon opened in West End, Cesar was one of the first to witness her triumph on West End. He has been hooked on her since then.

It is difficult not to like Lea. Her public persona implies the dutiful daughter who made it to the big time by following her mother’s advice. Although she was in showbiz, she exhibited the commitment and dedication usually associated with “real” theatre artists. She was never associated with any scandal involving, drugs, pregnancy or even a bouncing check. She marries a regular guy--who people close to them perceive--is intelligent, humble, loving and with lots of money. Despite having started a family, Lea continues with her stage career. Everyone dreams of a fairy tale life. And in the case of Lea, we love her for living it for us.

And of course, that voice. Pristine like a bell. Her voice is effortlessly powerful specially in the high notes. To my musically untrained ear, she does not only sing a song perfectly, but she also sings perfectly all the time. Parang plaka (like a vinyl record) is the old phrase that comes to mind. In that evening’s concert, Lea delivered her sometimes kilometric spiels without a stutter. She always appeared coifed and fresh after all the fabulous gown changes designed by Rajo Laurel. Does she ever lose her poise or lose her confidence? To be sure, she is capable at poking fun at herself. Her angst-less narration of how Flower Drum Song flopped on Broadway was endearing, despite the almost nonchalant re-telling. And she can muster kilig moments, too. When her former love team mate, Aga Muhlach, (feigning brattiness and bravado) appeared with her on stage, they evoked natural chemistry. They were fun to watch. And the Lea and Aga fans enjoyed the romantic sparks evident in their natural banter.

But try as I might—and I say this at the expense of being crucified by Tiang Caring, Cesar and all the Lea fans all over the planet—Lea’s singing did not move me. The sad songs were slow. The fast songs were happy. The sentimental songs featured the right amount of tremolo. But, to me, that was the whole problem. There was something too mechanical about her singing. It was too technically clean; almost antiseptic. Let me say that I'm saying this purely out of preference. To be sure, there were people around me who were constantly moved by her. Tony King, Cesar's friend for example, became teary eyed when Lea sang her commitment song. But that number was accompanied by her wonderfully edited clip from her wedding. And it would take a stone heart not to be moved by the image of Lea's husband crying at seeing Lea walking in his arms.

I could be a stickler for cleanliness. But that doesn't count in art. I like it when it's less than perfect. I like it when a voice frays a bit in the edges or has a tad difficulty reaching a high note. I emphathize more when a performer breaks into a sweat rather than appearing cool and collected all the time. I will never get tired of listening to Lea, but I wish she sounded and appeared more human.