The Legends and the Classics

Cecile, Lisa, and Lea: Three superstars have fun as they prepare to share one stage

World-class Filipino artists, from left, Cecile Licad, Lisa Macuja, and Lea Salonga, share the stage for the first time in a rare musical treat titled 'The Legends and the Classics' on March 17 and 18 at the CCP Main Theater.

Eating siling labuyo. Trying on 10 pairs of performance shoes. Pacing back and forth backstage. That’s how three of the country’s most distinguished artists—pianist Cecile Licad, prima ballerina Lisa Macuja, and singer and actress Lea Salonga deal with pre-show jitters, respectively.

In a luncheon press conference held Wednesday this week to promote their forthcoming concert The Legends and the Classics, the three well-respected ladies were joking around like old friends when, in truth, they just got to know each other the day before, in a photo shoot.

Next weekend, the three iconic Filipino artists will be together for the first time for two nights, and on one stage. Manila’s culture mavens and luminaries are marking the two-night performance as a definite must-see event for the year. Originally, The Legends and the Classics was just intended to be a one-night only concert, but with the clamor and sold-out tickets on March 17, a second night had to be staged to accommodate more viewers to the rare showcase of impeccable world-class talents.

At the press luncheon, the three ladies were quick to add that instant camaraderie took place and it was palpable. The three had high respects for what the other did and had watched each other’s shows in the past.

Lisa said she would bring her children to watch Lea’s show and that she once went backstage to ask for Cecile Licad’s autograph during one the latter’s Concert at the Park recitals.

Another thing that was palpable was the talent and professionalism of the three artists. They didn’t have to sing, dance or play the piano (although members of the press who were there wished they did as a preview to the coming concert) to exude the energy.

Lea started professional singing at the age of seven through the musical The King and I by Repertory Philippines. The big break that introduced her to the world was when she was selected to play Kim for the musical Miss Saigon in 1989. She received an Olivier, the Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and Theater World Awards for the role. Subsequently she did the lead role in Les Miserables and was asked to be Princess Jasmine’s voice in Disney’s Aladdin.

Cecile began playing the piano at the age of three, taught by her mother, Rosario. At age seven, she made her debut as soloist with the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra. She was one of the youngest ever to receive the prestigious Leventritt Gold Medal.

The New Yorker calls Cecile “a pianist’s pianist” as she continues to wow the world with her natural talent and daring musical instinct as a classical pianist.

At the press conference, Lisa modestly called herself “the late bloomer” among the three, starting her ballet lessons at age eight in St. Theresa’s school of dance. In 1982, she became a scholar at what is now The Academy of Russian Ballet in St. Petersburg in Russia. She was the first foreigner soloist for the Kirov Ballet and was the principal ballerina for its productions of the Nutcracker, Don Quixote and Giselle. She has clocked in 27 years of dancing in over 300 performances in 90 cities all over the globe.

With all the accolades and experiences of the three art and culture superstars, it was refreshing to hear from the organizers that not one of these three brilliant women have displayed any acts of misplaced self-importance. They all arrived 30 minutes early for a photo shoot, fitted and chose their clothes without a whimper, and finished two hours ahead of schedule.

There were also revelations on the characters of the three. Show director Roxanne Lapus, who used to manage talents like Dawn Zulueta and Raymund Lauchengco, said she was very cautious in approaching Cecile, being very proper with her choice of words and formal in her manner only to find out—in her words that “she’s a scream, loka loka pala!”

The press saw a peek of that in Cecile who at first was very quiet and would not voluntarily get the mike to answer questions until prodded by her fellow artists or the host.

When she finally did, she answered questions very direct to the point, a bit self-deprecating with no seeming intent to be funny but did come out hilariously so. Her candidness immediately won the hearts of many writers and senior editors in the room.

When asked about her success, Cecile says there’s no secret, its “practice, practice practice because things can happen. Shit happens and if you don’t practice then you’ll mess it up”

And when asked if she still gets nervous before a show, she quips “I’m nervous every show but the older I get, it gets more fun.”

The three women admitted that they still get anxious before a show. Cecile eats hot peppers or siling labuyo before each performance to calm her nerves. Lisa doesn’t eat four to six hours before a show and has to fit each of her 10 ballet shoes and assign a specific pair for each number a few hours before the show. Lea would pace back and forth backstage while running the lines or lyrics in her head and would get agitated if she is one minute off-sync from her itinerary. Lea always prays before coming out on stage.

At the press conference for 'The Legends and the Classics,' Cecile Licad, Lea Salonga, and Lisa Macuja impressed members of media with their candidness, passion for their craft, and easy rapport with each other. Photo by Peter C. Marquez for

To see three great Filipina artists together that day—and see them in their most down-to-earth selves—was both quite refreshing and impressive.

March is National Women’s month and these three women are indeed a wonderful inspiration among Filipinas. All three are mothers, devoted to their crafts, grounded yet accomplished, comfortable with the success and fame of others, and most important of all, they value having fun.

Lisa is producing the show while Lea’s brother, Gerard Salonga, is musical director. Roxanne Lapus is stage director. Besides the three global Filipino artists, the show will also feature Ballet Manila and the FILharmoniKa Orchestra.

• The Legend and the Classics will be staged on March 17 (8 p.m.) and 18 (6 p.m.) at the CCP main theater. For ticket inquiries, call Ticketworld at 891-9999 or