Starry memories of my Japan family
By Lea Salonga
Philippine Daily Inquirer
July 3, 2013 at 11:09 pm

THE AUTHOR (right) with some of the best practitioners of musical theater in her eyes (from left): Ramin Karimloo, Sierra Boggess, Rena Sasamoto (Eponine in “Les Miz” Tokyo) and Yu Shirota photos from facebook

I will not soon forget the last few weeks I spent in Japan working on “4Stars.” Sure, it’s a series of concerts in Tokyo and Osaka; concerts the likes of which I’ve done before, and will most definitely do again. Yes, it does involve all that a show would normally involve—vocal warm-ups, makeup and hair, costumes, microphones, an orchestra and a stage. What made this special was the family that the four of us on stage formed, a bond that extended to everyone else who worked on the show along with us.

Sierra Boggess, Ramin Karimloo, and Yu Shirota are just a few of the best practitioners of the art form called musical theater (Sierra appeared on Broadway in “The Little Mermaid” and “The Phantom of the Opera”; Ramin in the West End in “Love Never Dies” and “Les Miserables”; Yu in the Japanese productions “The Prince of Tennis,” “Elisabeth,” and “Romeo & Juliette”). On our first day of rehearsals, we had never been in the same room together, but once it started, it was as if we were the best of friends.


Cute Sierra


“Tentomushi” or “ladybug” was the first Japanese word Yu taught Sierra, since she has ladybugs on the back of her iPhone. It told me a lot about her—spiritual, grounded, one with the universe, and very cute.

It’s a given that Sierra is incredibly talented—exemplary training, perfect pitch, unobstructed delivery, emotional accessibility. What many don’t know is that she has the personality to match (her long, fiery mane says a lot … no other hair color will do). You’ll know when she enters a room; the temperature goes up a few degrees.

For some interesting reason, she finds plenty of four-leaf clovers on walks, attracts double numbers wherever she looks, and truly believes in the more spiritual side of humanity.

It’s eye-opening being around her. She exudes an incredibly positive force, and makes any environment a much better place just because she’s in it. I can’t say that about a lot of people, but I can definitely say that about her. Working with her is such a joy … you can almost see into her soul when gazing into her sea-foam green eyes. You’re a lucky human if she lets you.

My Ramin story

My Ramin Karimloo story starts from 2010 in the middle of the pouring rain. I was sheltered under my umbrella walking to the tube station heading to rehearsals for the “Les Miz” concert at the O2. In the distance I see a red sports car coming toward me …  the passenger door opens, and Ramin tells me, “Jump in.” So I see him as some kind of prince-charming-meets-action-hero type.

He’s a man of few words, very humble, almost embarrassed with the attention that his fans (and in Japan, they are numerous!) pour upon him. He’s quiet in interviews and keeps his solo curtain calls short, preferring his costars to get a lot of the glory. However, once he opens his mouth to sing, a hush comes over the packed auditorium, his voice a mix of unrestrained passion and intense technical clarity. He’s untrained, which makes me want to punch him in the throat. He’s truly a star. And a very lovely man.

The wonder of Yu

Without a doubt, Yu Shirota is the most famous of the “4Stars” company, a popular television star and recording artist in his homeland. Imposing at 190 centimeters (around 6’ 3”), he’s an incredibly handsome man, credit to his Spanish-Japanese ancestry. However, he’s a big kid at heart, his playfulness and joy very infectious.

Yu is also incredibly, surprisingly humble. Whenever around Sierra, Ramin and myself, he asks questions—about performance, vocal technique, emotional truth—and takes in our answers like a sponge. He constantly strives to be better at what he is already doing well, and his development as a performer was obvious in the three weeks we were all together.

For example, he would sing “Isabel” by Il Divo at every performance. When we opened the run, it was a great song sung well, but by the end, he had turned it into a tale of love and loss, dedicated to someone he loved. Sierra and I were in tears in our final shows; we were barely able to recover to sing whatever we had coming next.

It was bittersweet that our run had to end when it did. I felt as though we didn’t have enough time together to perform our show, or even to explore Japan some more. There were many tears at our closing matinee at various points in the concert, as we knew we would miss each other very much.

However, I have a feeling that the four of us will get to do this same show again … in another beautiful country that we’ll get to share. So, to my crazy little family, this is not goodbye. I’ll see you all very soon.

Arigato gozaimasu!

To our fans in Japan, for all your love, and for the all the wonderful gifts of your hearts and spirits, thank you from all  four of us!

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