In 2012 I got to interview Telly Leung while he was starring on Broadway in the revival of Stephen Schwartz's Godspell. At that time, he was already tapped to originate the role of "Sammy Kimura" in the pre-Broadway run of Allegiance. Well, four years later, Telly has come home to the Great White Way in Allegiance which also stars Lea Salonga and George Takei! Allegiance plays at the Longacre Theatre (220 West 48th Street, between Broadway & 8th Avenue) through February 14! Click here for tickets!
In addition to Allegiance, Telly recently released his second solo CD Songs for You featuring classic songs from the worlds of Pop, Jazz, R&B, and Broadway, featuring the songs by Billy Joel, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Oleta Adams, Mama Cass Elliot, John Denver, Des’ree, Stephen Sondheim and Schwartz as well as Jerry Herman. Click to purchase on Amazon and iTunes!
If this wasn't enough, Telly is also taking part in Inspirational Broadway at B.B. Kings (237 West 42nd Street, between 7th & 8th Avenue) in NYC on Monday, February 15 at 7:30pm. The one night only concert features theatre’s biggest names singing Broadway, Gospel, Pop, and Rock classics with a stirring and spiritual twist. In addition to Telly, the evening will feature Broadway Inspirational Voices founder Michael McElroy, Billy Porter (Kinky Boots), Renee Elise Goldsberry (Hamilton), Tony-nominee Joshua Henry (Violet), Chad Kimball (Memphis), Eden Espinosa (Wicked), Jarrod Spector (Beautiful), Adam Pascal (Rent), and Marcus Paul James (Motown). Click here for tickets!
1. This past November, you released your long awaited second CD, Songs For You, featuring classic songs from the worlds of Pop, Jazz, R&B, and Broadway done with a new and innovative twist. What made now the right time to record this CD? What do each of these songs represent for you? This has been an incredibly fulfilling and emotional year for me, with one of my biggest childhood dreams coming true: originating a leading role in a Broadway show from its first creative inception - and taking it from reading to workshop to out-of-town to Broadway. Allegiance has been such a gift, and a dream-come-true. I could not have done it alone, and I wanted to find a musical way to express the overwhelming feeing of GRATITUDE I had for all the people in my life (professionally and personally) that helped me along the way. Each song on the album has a special dedication to someone in my life - and it was my musical, creative way of saying, "thank you."
2. One of my favorite songs on the CD is the mash-up of "I Am What I Am" and "I Have Nothing." First of all, how did you decide these two songs would work so well as a mash-up? Secondly, what do remember about the moment in your life when you said to the world, "I Am What I Am?" and Thirdly, in regards to "I Have Nothing," when was there a time in your life when you felt you had nothing? I am a HUGE fan of two things - Broadway and Whitney Houston! I grew up listening to her on the radio, and that was the iconic voice that inspired me to sing. As a Broadway fan, I've always loved "I Am What I Am" (and "Albin" is a dream role of mine. I still got a couple of years to grow into it!). "I Have Nothing" is a love song, but those first iconic lyrics in the verse have a double meaning when paired with a "coming out" song like "I Am What I Am." "Share my life, take me for what I am...'cuz I'll never change all my colors for you."
I was inspired to do this very Glee-style mashup when I was in London for a Glee fan convention - and met so many young kids who were in that fragile time in their lives when they were figuring out WHO they were. A show like Glee, and the camaraderie that comes from making music with others (like they do in that famous choir room), was what helped these young people come out of their own "closets" and find themselves. I was blown away by these "Gleeks," and that's why this song is dedicated to them on the album.
Those two songs definitely resonate with me, and seeing those kids made me think about my own "coming out" experience. I found the courage to finally be unapologetic about who I am when I met my partner of 11 years. Having that love and support from him gave me that strength. The lyric, "I have nothing, nothing, nothing - if I don't have you", has never been more true.
3. I also enjoy "New York State of Mind." What are your favorite things to do in NYC? It might sound VERY obvious, but one of my favorite things to do in NYC is see a Broadway show. There's only one Broadway - and it's in NYC. It's my home - in so many ways.
4. You also cover Stephen Schwartz's "Dreamscape." When you need some Telly time, what's your "Dreamscape?" I am lucky that my job requires that I am constantly stimulated creatively. As a professional artist, my synapses and creative juices are constantly firing. For many people like me, who are working artists, it's important to find time to shut that off. So, my "dreamscape" often comes in the form of being a vegetable, on my couch, and watching some mindless TV.
5. Another song I love is "Second Chances" from Allegiance. What is an example of a time you gave someone a second chance and when were you given a second chance? To me, that song is about having faith that life is constantly filled with opportunities for redemption and forgiveness. We are all human and we all do things we regret. We say things we don't mean. We hurt the ones we love when we don't intend to do that. It may feel like those actions are irreversible, but the power of love and forgiveness is what allows us to grow and change for the better.
My parents had a hard time with me choosing a life in show biz. Like most traditional Chinese immigrant parents, they wanted me to be a doctor or a lawyer or an engineer - something "practical" that gave me financial security. They discouraged theatre and arts when I was younger - and I held a lot of resentment to them about that. When I was in high school, I'd take after school jobs and defiantly pay for my own acting and voice lessons, and not tell them about shows I was doing, because I didn't want them to be a part of this life that they didn't support. I shut them out. I was young, and didn't understand that it didn't come from a place of them not wanting me to be happy and fulfilled, but rather their concern about the ability to make a living in a very competitive profession. Eventually, my parents and I met each other in the middle. They let me pursue my dreams, and I let go of that resentment and lack of support and allowed them to partake in this other life I led. Now, they are very supportive, and we are very close.
6. Speaking of Allegiance, you are once again starring alongside Lea Salonga, with whom you made your Broadway debut alongside in 2002 in Flower Drum Song. What was your reunion like? What do you remember most about working with her in that show? What's it like to work with her now? Lea is family to me. She has always been a "big sister" to me, ever since Flower Drum Song. To get to play her little brother now is a "no acting required" job, and I feel like audiences that see our characters "Kei" and "Sammy" in Allegiance are also getting a peek at our off-stage relationship as Lea and Telly. It's always a joy to work with her, and hang with her on and off stage. She's been a "big sister" to me in every way. She's definitely had the responsibilities of carrying a show (with her dynamic turn as "Kim"), and she definitely helped me with sage advice about how to do that as "Sammy" in Allegiance. She is my rock on stage, and I couldn't have done this without her. Truly.
7. It was recently announced that Allegiance would be closing on Broadway, February 14. What is it like the night you come to work to find out the show is closing? How do you get out there and give it your all? What has been the most heart-felt thing to happen to you so far during the run of Allegiance? What will you miss most about starring in this show? We all found about the closing right after a Wednesday matinee performance. My dear friend and fellow cast mate Marcus Choi (who made his B'way debut with me in Flower Drum Song in 2002) went on for the first time as "Frankie" - and everyone was on a congratulatory high to experience his debut in that role! The whole building was full of pride and joy for Marcus. Then, we got the dreaded announcement that there was an impromptu "company meeting." Everyone in the business knows that "company meeting" means "you're getting your closing notice." We all went from "high" to "low" very quickly.
It was a bitter-sweet announcement. Of course, there is a part of me that is very sad the show is closing on 2/14. But, I'm trying to maintain perspective about the whole thing. I've worked on the show for six years - and there were so many nay-sayers along the way that said, "A musical about the Japanese-American internment? That will NEVER happen on Broadway." We proved all the nay-sayers wrong, and it DID happen. I am incredibly proud of this show, and I know that it is a moving and powerful experience for those lucky audience members that do get a chance to see this show in it's limited Broadway incarnation.
As a Broadway fan, there have been many shows that I LOVE and respect that have had short runs on Broadway - Merrily We Roll Along, Scottsboro Boys, The Visit, and Title Of Show are just a few that come to mind. All of those shows are huge, artistic and creative success stories - regardless of the commercial success. I count Allegiance as one of those shows.
As for "giving it our all" after the announcement - there is no pulling back or giving less than your 100% when you are in a show with George Takei, who is giving 110% at age 78! His dedication to telling this story is relentless, and he is the heart of our company. He is the glue that holds us all together. The closing notice only ignited the fire of urgency to get this story out to as many people as possible before 2/14, and that fire is spreading and it's contagious in our company. We may be closing early, but we are going to to out with our heads held high, and giving it our all!
What I'll miss? The cast and the bonds and friendships created by this show. I started a tradition at the Longacre called "Bar Telly." At the end of a long week, I open up my dressing room after the final show, and I stock my room with booze, drinks and snacks for the cast. Everyone crams into my tiny room, and we all have a drink before we leave the building, to celebrate another week together. I will miss "Bar Telly" and all the good times we had there.
8. With Allegiance closing, this will give you some time to actually go see some Broadway shows. What do you want to see? Of current, what shows would you like to go into? Because Allegiance has Wednesday nights off, I've actually gotten to see quite a bit of theater! I still haven't seen Color Purple and I'm dying to see this version! I loved the original, and it's one of my favorite shows. I can't wait to see this revival and what they've done with it.
As for shows I'd love to do - I'd love to be in Hamilton one day. That show blew me away, and Lin's writing is a powerhouse achievement for our genre. As an actor of color, I'm thrilled that something on Broadway is TRULY color-blind when it comes to casting. The show looks like it will have a very long run on Broadway - with productions nationally an internationally for decades to come - so I'm keeping fingers crossed that I get my "shot" at being part of that incredible show! Werq Werq!
9. The night after Allegiance closes, you will be singing at B.B. Kings in NYC as part of Inspirational Broadway, an evening of music lead by Broadway Inspirational Voices founder Michael McElroy. How did you become involved with Broadway Inspirational Voices? What does being part of this group do for you? I'm not officially a member of Broadway Inspirational Voices, but I'm definitely a friend, fan and supporter of the choir since so many members of my Broadway family are part of the organization. One of my dearest friends is my Rent-colleague Michael McElroy, who is the founder. What he has done with the choir is remarkable. Not only does he build community within the Broadway network, but he's expanded that sense of community outside of the B'way community by using the choir to do music outreach to young students. He does all of this with the power of music and it's ability to bring people together and lift spirits.
I wanted to produce an evening of music to raise some awareness and dollars for their outreach program. Michael and I picked up the phone and we called our friends to come and sing with us - and these folks have generously donated their time and talents to this ONE NIGHT ONLY event at BB KING's! Audiences can expect to hear their favorite Broadway and Pop songs - everything from Rodgers and Hammerstein to Sondheim to The Beatles - done with Broadway Inspirational Voice's unique and soulful twist.
10. On "Call Me Adam," I have a section called One Percent Better, where through my own fitness commitment, I try to encourage people to improve their own life by one percent every day. What is something in your life that you want to improve by one percent every day? MY DIET! The eating schedule of a Broadway performer is so tricky and strange because we can't eat too much before a show, and we are starving AFTER a show, but shouldn't eat too much before bed. It's always a challenge to try and strike that balance between eating excessively and not giving your body enough fuel.
Telly Leung made his Broadway debut in the 2002 revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Flower Drum Song opposite Lea Salonga, followed by the Roundabout Theater Company revival of Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman’s Pacific Overtures. Telly starred in the final Broadway cast of the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Rent, which was filmed for DVD release. In the 2011 revival of Godspell, his version of "All Good Gifts" was praised as "magnificent" by New York Magazine, "superb" by The Philadelphia Inquirer, and "a standout" by Bloomberg News.
On Fox TV’s Glee, Telly was featured as a member of the Dalton Academy "Warblers" opposite Darren Criss. When he recreated his portrayal of "Angel" in Rent at the Hollywood Bowl – directed by Neil Patrick Harris – he was called "vibrant" by The Los Angeles Times, "stunning" by the Orange County Register and praised for his "sweet, clear tenor" by Variety. Telly also originated the role of "Boq" in the Chicago production of the smash hit Wicked and has performed in concert and shows at venues such as Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, the Hippodrome in London, Birdland Jazz Club and 54 Below in New York, Paper Mill Playhouse, Philadelphia Theater Company, Ford’s Theater, and more.
He served as producer for the short film Grind, starring Anthony Rapp (If/Then, Rent), Claire Coffee (Grimm, The West Wing) and Pasha Pellosie (The Carrie Diaries). The movie, which won honors at film festivals around the country, is available to stream at GrindShortFilm.com. The soundtrack is available on Yellow Sound Label. Telly is also the co-producer of the touring concert series Broadway Back Together, a reunion of major headliners who have performed on Broadway together, sharing an evening of personal backstage anecdotes and show-stopping music.