The Bearable Lightness of Lisa, Cecile, and Lea

Trio curtain call

Bravo! 'The Legends and The Classics' artists Cecile Licad, Lisa Macuja-Elizalde, and Lea Salonga receive an overwhelming standing ovation during their curtain call. Photo courtesy of Ballet Manila.

Three legends of different superior talents on one stage? People were unsure how it can be done and if it could be done—but it did finally happen. Still heady with The Legends and the Classics staged for two nights last weekend (March 17 and 18), the metro’s culturati are still talking about how three world-class Filipino artists—prima ballerina Lisa Macuja-Elizalde, classical pianist Cecile Licad, and multi-awarded theater actress and singer Lea Salonga—shared the stage at the CCP so effortlessly in one amazing show.

Now where to read about the three artists in one review? Not here. No need to critique about the beautiful video montage, subtle lighting, beautiful costumes of Ballet Manila, and the stage design. It will just be an interference. It’s the individual talents of the three artists that really shined that night as the audience were treated to, shall we say, a three-in-one show—that runs for two and a half hours with no intermission.

The ladies performed together twice—at the opening, Ryan Cayabyab’s “Nais Ko,” and finale, Willy Cruz’s “Sana’y Walang Wakas.” And even then, the palpable effortlessness and rapport among all three kept the audience thrilled and delighted.

Cecile, Lisa, and Lea all started very young. Lea appeared in a musical, The King and I, at age seven and, at age 18, played the lead role of Kim in the West End musical Miss Saigon, for which she won the Olivier, Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics, and Theatre World awards.

Cecile studied piano at age three with her mother and moved to the US at age 12 to study at the Curtis Institute of Music. The international community first took notice of her exceptional talent when she became the youngest musicians to ever receive the prestigious Leventritt Competition Gold Medal in 1981, which launched her career playing with various orchestras all over the world.

Lisa, on the other hand, started her first ballet lessons at age eight. Later, she earned a scholarship to the Vaganova Choreographic Institute in Leningrad. and became the principal dancer of the renowned Kirov Ballet between 1984 and 1986.

In their younger years, exceptional talent and hard training pushed and inspired them to harvest their respective achievements. But now, in their 40s and all enjoying their careers and motherhood, it’s their experiences and profound wisdom that are now their extraordinary marks.

In their respective numbers in the concert, Cecile showed she’s truly a “pianist’s pianist” as she delivered amazing finger works—rippling with such ease—yet with obvious intensity in her playing Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s lively Pasquinade, Caprice Op. 59, Chopin’s Andante Spianato et Grande Polonaise Brillante Op. 22, to the Dying Swan piece which Lisa danced to.

Cecile Licad rocked the house with her incisive and powerful playing. Photo courtesy of Ballet Manila.

Lea’s voice has a richer tone and range, and this was especially palpable that night when she sang “Id Give My Life For You,” on the very same stage where she first auditioned for the role of Kim for Miss Saigon at 17 years old. Her vocal power was also apparent in the medleys (Broadway, Disney, Michelle Legrand) she performed that night. Talk about stamina! Good thing, a “waiter” in uniform was on stand by to hand Ms. Salonga a glass of water to drink.

Lea performs songs from Broadways shows "Les Miserables," "Cats," and "Wicked," which she has all performed in. Photo courtesy of Ballet Manila.

Lisa’s remarkable body moved so lightly and with such youthful playfulness in the balcony scene of Romeo and Juliet (with Rudy de Dios playing Romeo), one tends to forget the physical demands of those acrobatic lifts. And in her other dance pieces, such as the Paquita Grande Divertissement and Dying Swan numbers, a simple walk, run, arm gesture, even the exacting pirouettes that we’ve lost count off, always brimmed with inspiration.

Prima ballerina Lisa Macuja-Elizalde and danseur Rudy de Dios perform a scene from "Romeo and Juliet." Photo courtesy of Ballet Manila

And even more beautiful about their performances is that even when two or all three would be performing together, no one upstaged the other. Soloists in their own genres, the ladies used their great talents not to stand out but for a noble goal: to have a great concert. This is why the transitions were seamless throughout the concert.

But, of course, it takes a village to create one heck of a successful and beautiful show. So kudos go to first-time but hands-on concert producer Lisa Macuja-Elizalde, stage director Roxanne Lapus, musical director Gerard Salonga, scriptwriter Angela Blardony Ureta, choreographers Osias Barroso and Augustus Damian III, Ballet Manila, and Fil Harmonika, US-based cellist Wilfredo Pasamba who flew to Manila just for the concert, and the rest of the team.

Too bad, in this age of social media, and perhaps so as not to disrupt the three artists, taking photos with mobile phone cameras or digicams were strictly banned during the show. Only an official photographer was allowed to document The Legends and The Classics concert. Our gratitude to Ballet Manila for providing the photos.

An overwhelming standing ovation greeted Lisa, Lea, and Cecile during the curtain call. The audience could’ve clapped all night as they called out, “More! More! More!” But what kind of encore would take place? We overheard a lady editor teasing, “Perhaps Cecile will dance, Lisa will sing, and Lea will play the piano?” Or, said another gentleman music critic, “Another concert by the three ladies soon?”

Nonetheless, everyone enjoyed the concert and had a grand time. The two and a half hours just passed by so quickly. To Lisa, Lea, and Cecile: Thank you! Bravo!