Lea Salonga's Big Break(out): An Allergy Attack At The Audition Tony Award winner Lea Salonga has long been a star on stage and screen. But she learned her grit and confidence years earlier — when she overcame allergy (and dog) attacks to win the role of Annie.
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Lea Salonga's Big Break(out): An Allergy Attack At The Audition

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Lea Salonga's Big Break(out): An Allergy Attack At The Audition

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Actress Lea Salonga knows what it takes to succeed on Broadway. Since her start as a child actress in the Philippines, Salonga has gone on to star in five Broadway musicals, to sing the parts of two Disney princesses - Jasmine and Mulan - and to record more albums than we can list here. But Salonga is clear about the role that catapulted her to stardom.

LEA SALONGA: "Miss Saigon" was my big break. It was thanks to the show that people outside the Philippines knew who I was. And I guess whatever success I may have gathered in the musical theater world, it's because of that show.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "MISS SAIGON")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (As Kim, singing) You are sunlight and I moon, joined here, brightening the sky with the flame...

MARTIN: Salonga landed the lead role at the age of 18. By 20, she'd earned a Tony Award for her work in "Miss Saigon."

SALONGA: But that was not the experience, necessarily, that put those gears in my head to be the lead in a show. For that, I would have to pick "Annie."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "ANNIE")

SALONGA: I was 9-years-old when I got to play the part. I was 8, though, when I auditioned.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SALONGA: When I auditioned for "Annie," something happened. I don't what I had eaten. I don't know what medicines I took. But I was having a majorly serious allergy attack.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SALONGA: My eyelids were swollen, and thank goodness I didn't go into anaphylactic shock. But I was having some kind of allergic reaction to something. And so I think my mother must've been panicking because when your child is all swollen, what are you going to do? And I guess whatever was going on with my allergies, it didn't stop me. And if anything, it made me feel very determined to get this part, or at least to get in the show. And I did, and I got to play the girl with the red hair.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "ANNIE")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (As Annie, singing) The sun will come out tomorrow. So you got to hang on 'till tomorrow. Come with me. Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love you, tomorrow. You're always a day away. Tomorrow...

SALONGA: The thing about doing that particular show - that, yes, it was the first lead role I ever had. And that is a crazy responsibility to put upon a 9-year-old. And I had to perform with a dog.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SALONGA: There was one scene where I have to get on my knees and hug this dog. And the first dog they hired was not trained, and it snapped. And so my face got caught in a tooth, and I got scratched in the face. And so everybody started to panic, like, oh, my God, what are we going to do? Right away, somebody with a big bottle of Spanish cologne put it on my face to disinfect the scratch on my face. And of course, I'm crying - what 9-year-old wouldn't? It was an experience for sure. But that taught me a huge responsibility. Broadway musicals are hard. And I like that they don't coddle us because then we just find the strength, the sinew, you know, the determination to stick those landings - we're going to nail it and we're going to do this. And I don't think I would've been able to do any of the other things that I did later without that.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Actress Lea Salonga talking about her big break - or rather breakout. She stars in the new musical "Allegiance," about Japanese-Americans in a World War II internment camp. It opens on Broadway tomorrow. And hopefully, it will be allergy and dog drama-free.

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