Telly Leung sings the crap out of doomed drag queen Angel.
The story's third couple, Tom Collins and Angel, is its most convincing in this production. Golden-voiced Wayne Brady brings just the right touch of pathos to Collins, an HIV-positive teacher with dreams of opening a restaurant in Santa Fe. As his lover, Angel, a flamboyant transvestite, Telly Leung's show-stealing abilities rival Scherzinger's. The diminutive actor, who's played the part before, is one of those performers who owns the stage when he's got the spotlight, and his stunning voice is worthy of the character's name.
The surprise for me was the confident intensity of Brady’s portrayal of Tom Collins, whose romance with Angel (a vibrant Telly Leung) was the most moving element of Harris’ production. The staging tended to lock the couple into variety-show frames, but the richness of vocal feeling between them burst the bounds with a passion that flirted with opera, gospel, rock and R&B.
Wayne Brady's Collins, Telly Leung's Angel and Tracie Thoms -- re-creating her movie role of Joanne, the pic's best perf -- all score strongly.
Song enacts the part of the ideal Japanese Geisha for Gallimard and Leung gives a lyrical physical performance and vocally engaging throughout. Every gesture is classical geisha subservient dance and in this scenario a running commentary of deception. Leung (in a time-out from his run in RENT to do this part) casts stunning stage pictures helped all along by Lee's lighting of course, and working Helen Huang's vibrant costumes. An arresting moment comes late in the play when Song invites the audience to leave while he reveals his true identity. His highly untheatrical transformation is riveting... Act II is more cohesive and as the intrigue increases, Innvar and Leung are hypnotic together. M. Butterfly's denouement is a shatteringly melodramatic cross between Puccini's opera and Samuel Beckett. Leung's intricately calibrated performance is not to be missed.
There are exceptional performances throughout, the highlight being that of Telly Leung, who plays Song Liling. The transformation of the character is so jaw-dropping it redefines the phrase 'seeing is believing.'
In Leung's moving performance, we see a performer deceiving and deceived by her greatest acting challenge.
Leung takes charge of the scene and turns in a virtuoso performance as the singer strips off his makeup, wig and kimono and stands naked in front of the shocked, disbelieving diplomat who has fallen in love with an illusion.
"Jennifer Cody and Telly Leung are eat-them-up adorable as innocents who fall in love. "
"Everyone's so vocally potent that choosing the best among them seems unfair. Still, memories of Telly Leung's "All Good Gifts" will linger well after the curtain call."
"Telly Leung, who has shone in the ensembles of several New York productions but whom I've never before heard sing an extended solo, does a beautiful job with 'All Good Gifts.'"
Also outstanding is Telly Leung, who gives an incredible solo rendition of "All Good Gifts."
"Of particular note is Telly Leung, obviously a talent to watch. His rendition of 'All Good Gifts' is a joy."
"The exception to any quibbles above is cast standout Telly Leung whose fresh energy, openness and reactions find all the right moves. He seems to be actively listening, thinking, and absorbing wisdom, free of guile. Despite the fact that he portrays one of the least showy or aggressive personalities, your eye goes to him constantly. His singing of All Good Gifts with a rare sweetness captures the essence of faith and a sense of discovery that’s missed elsewhere in the show. Wisely, he gets a second chance to spread this bliss in a loose jam that opens the second act."
TELLY'S NEXT JAM: 'GODSPELL' AT PAPER MILL
Currently in rehearsals for Stephen Schwartz and John-Michael Tebelak's Godspell, Telly Leung is taking things "Day by Day" before making his Paper Mill Playhouse debut on Sept. 20 in Millburn, N.J. Directed by Daniel Goldstein, the fresh-faced cast will include Dan Kohler as Jesus and Joshua Henry as Judas. "I'm incredibly excited," says Leung, who'll get to sing "All Good Gifts" in his thrilling tenor voice. "Our set is a theatre that's been torn down and is being reconstructed; there's scaffolding all around. It's been raining, so we all come in wet, looking for shelter. And like the theatre, we're all rebuilding, but with our relationships to each other, and with humanity. We're from all walks of life. I'm this street kid with baggy pants. Our director has let us play and improv, so it's organic and really feels like our show."
About five years ago, the 5-foot-8 Chinese-American from Brooklyn first met Schwartz at Carnegie Mellon. He recalls, "It's Stephen's alma mater, so he came to coach, and I was so bold that I sang his song 'Lost in the Wilderness.' He said, 'That's very brave of you to sing my song for me. I know where all the pitfalls and traps are.' Stephen then gave me some wonderful notes about song styling and riffing, and said I had to justify it as an actor, and I've never approached singing the same way again."
To quote Godspell, Leung "learned his lessons well." Schwartz says, "Telly has been in several of my shows and readings, and he never fails to come through. He's just one of those solid, all-around performers: an excellent singer, a good actor and an attractive stage personality. I'm delighted he's doing another one of my shows."
Since Carnegie Mellon, Leung has appeared on Broadway in Flower Drum Song and Pacific Overtures. Plus, he scored two nontraditional casting coups: Last month, he played Toby in Sweeney Todd at the Four Seasons Theatre in Madison, WI. And before that, he played Boq in the Chicago staging of Wicked. Leung, 26, gushes, "I'm very blessed. As an Asian-American actor, I know the reality is my bread-and-butter shows will be The King and I and Miss Saigon. But it meant so much to me to be the first Asian-American in a principal role in Wicked. Joe Mantello told me, 'I cast you because you captured the right energy.'"
Leung's energy is contagious. When he auditioned for Stephen Sondheim for Pacific Overtures, "I was so nervous. I started to sing 'There Is No Other Way' and I got to the bridge, and he cut me off. I gasped and started sweating. Then he said, 'That was gorgeous! I don't need to hear any more.' What a relief. I thought, 'I don't even need a resume anymore.' I'll just write: 'Gorgeous!' — Stephen Sondheim." [Laughs.]
Next, Leung is working on a cabaret act called "To Stephen …," which will feature "cool arrangements of songs by Schwartz and Sondheim, and sometimes I'll meld the two, like 'For Good' and 'Old Friends' — two songs about friendship." Directed by Alan Muraoka, it also will be a tribute to Leung's father, who's named Stephen. "The first two Stephens validated my love for theatre, and in between songs, I'll talk about my father and how that's been kind of a roadblock for him." Though it's not traditional for Asians to go into theatre, Leung's still Chinese to his core: "In college, I didn't go anywhere without my wok. I stir-fry everything. I even make French toast with chopsticks!"
For more info, visit www.papermill.org and www.tellyonline.net.
"Standouts in the cast were Lori Poulson as the pie shop owner Mrs. Lovett, and Telly Leung as her assistant Tobias... Leung, featured on the Four Seasons website, lent his flawless voice and professional and Broadway experience to the supporting role of a naive boy waking up to the evil and horror surrounding him."
A 'Wicked' act to follow:
Broadway star follows Chicago performances with role in Madison show
By GAYLE WORLAND
August 2, 2006
How did a Brooklyn-born cast member of the hit musical "Wicked" wind up with a role in "Sweeney Todd" at Madison's Four Seasons Theatre?
Telly Leung (more about that first name later) will play Tobias Ragg in Four Seasons' Aug. 11-13 production of the Sondheim musical at Union Theater, thanks to an acting job he landed in New York some two years ago.
"Telly and I met when I was doing a concert version of my show 'but I'm A Cheerleader,'" Four Seasons artistic director Andrew Abrams explained. "He was cast in one of the roles and he just loved the piece, so we kept in touch."
When Abrams heard that Leung had been cast as Boq in the Chicago version of "Wicked," he asked the actor to lead a spring master class at Union Theater. A short time later, Four Seasons offered the 26-year-old tenor its first equity guest artist contract: to play the naive sidekick Tobias for "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street," a dark comedy based on a grisly true tale and set to some of Sondheim's greatest music.
Leung's Broadway credits include "Flower Drum Song" and Sondheim's "Pacific Overtures." A graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, he landed the role of Boq - a one-time classmate to the duo who become the grown-up witches in "The Wizard of Oz" - for "Wicked's" opening year run at the Oriental Theatre. That contract ended this summer, and Leung shifted his home base back to New York.
"I love Chicago and I love the show, but for me it was time to go home," he said. "I'd gotten so homesick."
Still, "Wicked" was a milestone.
"To be in a highly successful hit like that was really great," he said. "Just to be part of that phenomenon. And for me it was very exciting to be nontraditionally cast in the role, because they'd never had an Asian principal actor in the show."
The son of parents from Hong Kong, Leung grew up bilingual, thanks to his Cantonese-speaking grandmother, who picked him up every day after school.
"She instilled that in me. She said, you can speak all the English you want at school and with your friends, but when you're home with us, you have to speak Chinese," he said. "I'm so glad that I've retained my language. Being part of an immigrant family, I think my parents wanted me to assimilate; Grandma wanted me to retain the tradition of our language."
As for his first name, Leung can trace that back to show biz. "My mom came to this country in 1975, and she had me in 1980," he said. "She watched a lot of television in her spare time to improve her English. 'Kojak' was one of her favorite shows. I was named for Telly Savalas; my parents thought it was an interesting name."
Leung (who now has his own Web site, www.tellyonline.net) was first bitten by the theater bug in high school, where he was enrolled in an intensive math and science curriculum. "I just needed something to work the other side of my brain," he said. "I started singing and dancing and being in musicals. I loved the camaraderie of theater, working together to put a show up. I really loved that spirit."
Then he got a job working at WB/Channel 11 in New York - and discovered that actors could make a living.
"They had what was almost like their version of the 'Mickey Mouse Club,'" he said. "That was my first paying gig. My parents - and I - had our doubts about show business and its financial stability, especially because there weren't that many Asian faces in the business at the time.
"Now that I'm in show biz, I don't know if I could ever leave the business. I might not be performing always - I might be teaching one day, or working in casting one day - but I don't think I could ever leave. It's what makes me happy, being in a community, the theater community."
As for "Sweeney Todd," "I'm very excited to play Tobias (in 'Sweeney Todd') because once again it's another nontraditional casting opportunity," said Leung. "Those roles are few and far between. ... I really applaud the producers of 'Wicked' for casting me nontraditionally, and making it not about race but about who brought the right energy to the role.
"I think it's getting better, but I still think there's still a double standard in the industry. It's interesting: In the world of Shakespeare and opera, race has become not even an issue," he said. "My hope is that someday musical theater will get to that place, too."
Copyright 2006 - Wisconsin State Journal
"...Stars were born (Telly Leung with Bowler Hat) and rising Broadway performers (Kate Baldwin, Danny Gurwin, Alexander Gemignani) brought down the house..."
Telly Leung, fresh from the Pacific Overtures revival, offers a noble solo version of that score's "A Bowler Hat," with emotion appropriately cloaked in restraint.
"Telly Leung makes a meal out of A Bowler Hat -- with only piano accompaniment the stark reality of the piece is quite effective."
Telly Leung has made his mark in musical theater, with roles in the revivals of Pacific Overtures and Flower Drum Song on Broadway, as well as stage work around the country. He was part of two Stephen Sondheim tributes (see first album reviewed above) last year. Currently, he's playing Boq in Wicked in Chicago.
Telly has released a CD of contemporary pop music, all originals co-written and co-produced with Randy Witherspoon, who was his dresser on Broadway. (The executive producer is Samuel C. Parker, III.) For his pop music he's just using his first name, so we almost missed this. Who knew?! The New York City native, in his mid-twenties, has enjoyed and absorbed various musical styles and he and Randy have created some catchy and upbeat music. You can hear some and also catch up on his theater career at www.tellyonline.net.
I generally have, at most, a mild passing interest in most current pop music - spending little time (at least by choice) listening to dance, trance, pop, or hip-hop music. It takes something special and intriguing to make me sit up and pay attention. Telly did it for me. First of all, there's his appealing voice soaring through the beats. It's clear, vibrant, vital and full of youthful energy. The music does not bombard and has an odd innocence. The lyrics have some neat phrases, better than the run of the mill in this genre.
The title song of Getaway is one of the best, and it won me over right away, with a seductive swirl of melody and easily soaring vocal line. "2 Late" showcases his voice more than some of the others, with some high, sustained notes. Some songs are sultry, addressing sexual attraction without being in the least smutty or vulgar. There are seven tracks, with a playing time of 30:36, and the CD ends with a neat "Inspiration" wherein he thanks his sources of inspiration: his parents who escaped an oppressive government, a friend who fights cancer, his teacher and preacher (conveniently rhyming).
The background vocals are all Telly, all the time, and if it makes any sense in that situation to say it's good teamwork, it all works very well. This is a well-produced (not over-produced) album without a lot of claptrap and noisy muddle. And that immensely likeable voice and personality is simply irresistible.
Q&A with TELLY LEUNG
by Robert Diamond, 7/22/05
Currently starring as Boq in the Chicago production of Wicked, Telly's Broadway credits include Flower Drum Song, and Pacific Overtures (on which he also appears on the cast recording). Outside of New York, he's appeared as Simon in Jesus Christ Superstar (Music Circus), Thuy in Miss Saigon (PCLO), Lun Tha in The King and I (starring Lou Diamond Phillips), and Dolph in But, I’m a Cheerleader!
Q: You're the first non-Caucasian to play the role of Boq. Do you think color blind casting is more prevalent on Broadway, or are there still barriers?
A: First off, let me take this opportunity to applaud the creative team and producers of Wicked for being at the forefront of non-traditional casting. Because of the fantastic nature of the show (who says that everyone in Oz is Caucasian?), Wicked has always been a show that has always cast non-traditionally and included many minority actors in their companies. Derrick Williams is an African-American Fiyero. Aaron Albano (who is Filipino) is a Boq understudy on the tour. Both the standby and the understudy for Elphaba on Broadway right now are African-American. And now, I am cast as the first Asian-American Boq. It is my hope that other Broadway shows will follow in Wicked’s shoes – that every actor regardless of race is seriously considered in the casting process.
I try to stay optimistic with regards to the future of non-traditional casting on Broadway, but there is a double standard that exists for Asian roles in music theatre. It is perfectly acceptable for an actress like Juanita Hall or Lillias White to play Bloody Mary in South Pacific, or for Jonathan Pryce to play the Engineer in Miss Saigon. However, an Asian actor like myself would never be considered for a role in Dreamgirls or Fiddler on the Roof. Shows like King and I, Hairspray, and Showboat deal with issues of race and should be cast race-specifically. Yet, this double standard exists that takes Asian roles away from Asian actors.
Q: What was it that first got you interested in musical theater?
A: I started doing theatre when I was attending Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, a specialized high school for math and science. Theatre was an escape from the long days of chemistry and calculus. I had a great teacher there named Vincent Grasso (we all called him Mr. G) who taught me the most valuable lesson of all in theatre – collaboration. He would always say, “Whether you are the star, or the guy sweeping the stage, you are a valuable part of the show.” That lesson has stuck with me always and it allows me to truly love and respect what my colleagues and I do – no matter how large or small the role.
Q: How many times have you seen "Wicked" as an audience member?
A: I’ve seen WICKED 4 times. I was in attendance on opening night on Broadway (I had very good friends and colleagues who were part of the original company on and off-stage). I saw it once again in NY when my good friend from the FLOWER DRUM SONG tour (Kenway Kua) replaced another FLOWER DRUM SONG alumni (Marcus Choi). I saw the show a third time this last May as a Wicked employee to observe the show and to see Shoshana Bean’s and Megan Hilty’s performances (the former of whom I am a huge fan and the latter of whom I went to school with at Carnegie Mellon). I saw Wicked a fourth time in Chicago to observe the national touring cast. Each time I saw the show as an audience member, I had a blast!
Q: Were you a fan of the Wizard of Oz growing up?
A: Like every kid, I, too, fell in love with the Wizard of Oz. I never thought I’d get to actually BE in Oz eight times a week. It’s like a childhood fantasy come true!
Q: After seeing someone else perform the role of Boq, what steps have you taken to make sure the role is unique to you, yet kept true to the original character?
A: From day one of rehearsals, Joe Mantello encouraged all of us to find our own way of telling the story. He did not want us to be carbon copies of what others have done with our roles. As a result, the company as a whole has found OUR way of making every moment our own within the framework of such a technical piece. Because it is a brand new cast of players and we are all working so closely together to find our own way of playing with each other on stage, I truly believe that this production of Wicked is very much unique without sacrificing the truthful intentions of each character. As we learn from Elphaba in Wicked, there is more than one way of telling the story.
Q: How are the audiences reacting to this company?
A: The city of Chicago has welcomed this sit-down production with open arms. The fans line up at the stage door to meet us after the show and tell us how much they’ve enjoyed it. Neighboring department stores, like Marshall Fields, have Wicked window displays. The Borders bookstore next door has special displays with the Gregory Maguire book and posters from the musical. There are cabs, busses, and phone booths all over the city with Wicked ads – and there is a huge buzz about the show all over town. In some ways, because the Wizard of Oz was written in Chicago, it’s as if Wicked has come full-circle and returned home.
People that have seen the show before, including the creators Winnie Holzman and Stephen Schwartz, have expressed how well our cast is telling the story of “Wicked.” This company is a true ensemble and from day one of rehearsals, we wanted to stay true to the emotional intentions of what Stephen and Winnie have written. I believe that the people of Chicago will see a very clear, clean, and crisp production of the show.
Q: The tour was in Chicago for four weeks, and now all of a sudden there is a brand new cast (including many local Chicago actors). Are you getting repeat customers who had seen the tour and have come back to see your company?
A: This show is a phenomenon and has an enormous fan base. The show appeals to people age eight to eighty – just like the Wizard of Oz does, and there is something for everyone. It would not surprise me if people come see the show and say, “I want to come back and bring my husband / wife / boyfriend / mother / grandfather / best friend / etc. to see the show.” The Chicago actors who are involved are also from the rich and thriving local theatre scene in town. They bring with them a local familiarity and fan base as well. Plus, wait till you see Ana Gasteyer in the starring role of Elphaba! It is a performance not to be missed. She is stunning in the role.
Q: Your website mentions that a full length CD of original songs is going to be available this summer. We've heard some of the music that's on the website which is quite different than what a Broadway audience may be used to. Tell us a bit about your inspirations for the music side of your career.
A: Writing your own songs and singing your own music is a completely fulfilling experience. My first love was NOT music theatre. As a kid in Brooklyn, I grew up listening to pop / hip-hop / r&b / raggae. My first voice teachers were artists like Stevie Wonder, the late Luther Vandross (a huge vocal idol of mine), Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige, and Whitney Houston. My writing partner, Randy Witherspoon, was my dresser in FLOWER DRUM SONG on Broadway. He has his own studio (MOPPTOPP STUDIOS) – and he was the one that took me under his wing and taught me about the music industry. He believed in my talent, loved my voice, and encouraged me to write my own songs and develop my own style as a recording artist. One thing led to another and we are going to independently release a full-length album of our music under the MOPPTOPP label. We are very proud of our project, and we hope the people out there dig our music. Check out http://www.mopptopprecords.com for the 411!
Q: At 25 you have quite the resume already with two Broadway credits under your belt. You're working with one famous Stephen right now (Schwartz) but you've spent quite a bit of time working with another (Sondheim). How involved was Sondheim in the rehearsal process of "Pacific Overtures"?
A: My first association with Stephen Schwartz was actually at Carnegie Mellon, my alma mater. Stephen is also CMU alum and he would often come to do master classes with the undergrads there. He was a great teacher, and was extremely supportive. He continues to be someone who encourages and inspires me to be a better artist.
Being in a Sondheim show on Broadway was a dream come-true, and working with a living legend first hand like Stephen will surely prove to be a shining highlight of my career. Stephen Sondheim was extremely involved in the process for Pacific Overtures. He (and John Weidman) were responsible for bringing Amon Miyamoto’s staging of the production in Japan to America. Sondheim and Weidman would attend rehearsals often and were almost always present during tech and previews at Studio 54. Both men continued to give helpful notes to Amon and the actors and even make changes to the book and score. After the show opened, both men have been quoted saying that it was the most satisfying version of Pacific Overture they’ve ever seen. They loved the production – and would often come back to visit after the show opened – sometimes with pages of constructive notes and sometimes, just to say ‘hello.’ Pacific Overtures was a labor of love for all involved and I am very proud to have been a part of it.
Most of all, I am proud to be a Sondheim alum. I performed in two all-star events for Sondheim’s 75th Birthday (Wall to Wall Sondheim, Children and Art) – and sharing a stage with those actors that I’ve looked up to all my life (Elaine Stritch, Angela Lansbury, Harvey Evans, Sab Shimono, George Hearn, Patti Lupone, Betty Buckley, Alvin Ing) and knowing that we’ve all shared the common experience of working with the genius of Sondheim made me feel like I was, in some small way, the newest member of Broadway’s most exclusive club.
Q: What are 5 things people don’t know about Telly Leung?
(1) I love Jelly-Belly beans and hate melted ice-cream.
(2) I am bi-lingual. At home, I speak Chinese (Cantonese) to my parents.
(3) I love acting, but someday, I hope to either produce or have my own theatre company.
(4) I like to cook.
(5) Boq is not that far from who I am. I am a big dorky goober. A SWEET dork with a lot of heart, but a dorky goober nonetheless.
For more information on Telly, visit http://www.tellyonline.net. Photo credit: Chris Macke. For more information on Wicked in Chicago, and to purchase tickets, visit http://www.wickedthemusical.com/chicago/
Last but not least, I'd like to bring attention to Telly Leung whose bright-eyed energy made him very watchable among the Pacific Overtures performers, all talented in their own right. But Mr. Leung seemed to glow from the inside (or had bribed the lighting director).