Never imagined a Singaporean girl would make it on Broadway? Say hello to Elena Wang.
BY JO TAN
Published on 13 October 2015
BY JO TAN
Barely nine years ago, Elena Wang was a theatre student at LASALLE College of the Arts, just learning to sing properly for the first time. Right after graduation, her newly-discovered voice, since hailed as “revelatory” and “note perfect”, secured her the lead in the 2008 production of Singapore musical Beauty World. This was followed by a slew of other starring parts on the Singapore stage.
Even then, she maintains, “If I had told people I was going to New York to do a Broadway show, they’d have laughed.”
No one’s laughing now. Wang is currently understudying Tony Award-winning star Lea Salonga for the lead in the musical Allegiance by George Takei, which has just opened on Broadway after a successful run at The Old Globe Theatre in San Diego. She also produced and starred in the feature film Bloodline, all the while overseeing Berte’ Productions, the Los Angeles film company she co-owns with her fiancé.
“I used to think, if you’re in theatre, you stay in theatre. But I’ve found lots of film names in Broadway shows and vice versa. I’m in Allegiance now, but once the show is done, I might end up in a TV commercial or doing a movie… it’s so flexible,” she says.
Wang has always set her sights on a different scale. Not a year after Beauty World, she auditioned for and won a part on the West End’s The King and I. She subsequently left theatre and London for Los Angeles to pursue a Master of Fine Arts in Acting for Film at the New York Film Academy. There, she worked with the likes of Taylor Swift on music videos, starred in Schenectady, New York, part of the Official Selection for the New York City International Film Festival, and appeared in various commercials.
“I was always wondering about working in film and TV, even after The King and I,” she explains. “And I thought, if I’m still thinking about it even after this wonderful opportunity, I better give it a shot. I focused on film those few years because I didn’t want to be a Jack of all trades and master of none. But somebody sent me the audition notice for Miss Saigon in Los Angeles, and I got the lead role of Kim. Then, Allegiance happened.”
Wang was handpicked to understudy Salonga from an open audition that attracted actresses all across New York and Los Angeles, but the real work started after. “The musicals were like boot camp, forcing me to get back into that intense ‘triple-threat’ mode. On the most basic level, it’s just getting the muscles back for the dancing and
all that singing.
“For Allegiance, Lea only came in during the second week of rehearsals, so I was filling in for her pretty much from day one. It was just, dive into the deep end and trust your abilities. For this profession in general, you work hard, but it also involves a lot of faith, reminding yourself you’re there for a reason.”
Now Wang’s placing her faith in juggling both her stage and screen passions. “And also my love life and the company while working on Allegiance,” she laughs. “But an amazing thing happened: two months ago, my fiancé got the call that he had been hired as Allegiance’s fight choreographer! So we’ll be in New York together. Sometimes things just happen. Never say never.”