By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
In show biz circles, Kristian Lei is known as a “triple threat” — actress, singer and dancer.
Her talent has been showcased in major international stage musical productions, including “Miss Saigon” in Germany, “Festival of the Lion King” at Hong Kong Disneyland and “Once on this Island” in the Philippines, where she was born. She also played Tuptim in Hawaii Opera Theater’s production of the “The King and I,” which featured Richard Chamberlain and five-time Tony nominee Jan Maxwell.
She’ll appear in concert tonight at downtown Hilo’s Palace Theater. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 advance, $17.50 at the door. Advance tickets are available at the Palace box office. The repertoire will be songs from Broadway shows, Christmas music and songs from her upcoming second album “Kristian Lei: All of Me,” which is due to be released in February. Her first album, the inspirational “Take My Hand,” was released in 2007.
“I love Hilo,” Lei told the Tribune-Herald. She said her parents, Byron and Liza Yogi, and her brother, Joshua Hegwood, live here.
Lei’s stage career might not have happened except for an exceptional stroke of luck, or perhaps kismet. The Waianae High School alum had no acting experience or vocal training when she took an elective drama course at Leeward Community College on Oahu. Each student had to sing in front of the class. She chose the Melissa Manchester hit “Through the Eyes of Love,” the Marvin Hamlisch-Carole Bayer Sager-penned theme to the film “Ice Castles.”
“So I sang, and a girl, a music major, said to me, ‘You should come with me and audition for “Miss Saigon.” You have a pretty good voice.’ I said, ‘OK, what’s Miss Saigon?’” Lei recalled.
Lei went to the “Miss Saigon” audition. She didn’t know any of the show’s repertoire, so she sang “I Dreamed a Dream” from “Les Miserables” for the show’s casting agents.
“They were just blown away and maybe, about seven months later, I was flying to Germany — with no training yet,” she said. “When I got to Germany and they gave me the lead role of Kim, that’s when they gave me training, because I kept begging for it. … So Germany was my first vocal training, even though I already had the lead role.” She was 19 at the time.
Since then, Lei has sought vocal coaching from Philippines superstar Lea Salonga, the original Kim in “Miss Saigon,” and Hawaii singers Melveen Leed, Azure McCall and Monnette Forte. In addition, she’s become a voice teacher and has started a nonprofit organization called Honolulu Broadway Babies.
“It’s dedicated to my younger brother, Joshua Hegwood, who has cerebral palsy,” she said. “I founded it to raise awareness for people who are developmentally challenged. I do reviews once a year and bring together people that I’ve been in musicals with. We come together to do these huge reviews as fundraisers to raise awareness and obtain educations for people like Joshua.”
Lei will be accompanied in her Palace concert by pianist Dennis Alstrand as well as orchestral tracks. She’ll also feature a couple of local singer-actresses, Angie Jara and Rachel Edwards, as well as her musician husband, Gavin Vinta, who’s one of her vocal students.
“It’s a beautiful place. It’s a historic theater. I love the acoustics. I’m really excited to be there,” she said. “My goal is to take the audience on a journey of where I began, where I want to go, my relationship with the Lord. I want to inspire people, help them heal, if that’s within my power, with music.”
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.