As part of the “Ask the Star” feature we got to interview Telly Leung, who is an American actor, singer and songwriter. He is best known for his work in musical theatre on Broadway and for his role as Wes, a member of the Dalton Academy Warblers on the Fox comedy-drama series Glee.
Telly is currently staring as the title role in Disney’s Aladdin on Broadway where we got the chance to speak to Telly about Whitney Houston and the showmanship of a Broadway show.
How did you get into acting, was there a particular performance you saw that resonated with you?
I started doing theatre in high school. I found my tribe. I found a place where I belonged. My first exposure to music theatre was actually via my television. I was watching PBS, and I stumbled upon the Great Performances series. They were showing a telecast of the original Broadway production of INTO THE WOODS, and that was when I was first exposed to Broadway. I was captivated. I taped it off PBS, and I remember wearing out my VHS of it, and absorbing all of those iconic performance – especially Bernadette Peters.
What has been your favourite role you have played and why?
It’s so hard to pick a favourite role. I think it’s always the one I’m playing at the moment. I’m having a great time in ALADDIN right now, playing a role that I’ve loved since I was 12 years old, as a big fan of the Disney animated film. It’s a dream come true, to be in this version of this story with all the things you love from the classic animated film, with all the glitz, glamour and showmanship of a Broadway show.
Where has been your favourite place to perform on stage and why?
There is an outdoor theatre in St. Louis called THE MUNY, and it has 12,000 seats. It’s the largest outdoor theatre in the U.S., and it’s where I got my first Equity job as a professional actor. It is music theatre boot camp. As a member of the singing-dancing ensemble, you are often doing a show at night while you’re rehearsing the next production during the day. I learned so much there, working alongside some amazing Broadway artists, and I count that as some of the most formative years of my training as an artist. Such fond memories of the Broadway summer camp!
What is the most rewarding thing about your work?
As theatre artists, we have the power to change an audience. They may come into the theatre seeing the world one way, and it’s our hope that they see the world differently when they leave the theatre. The theatre is an agent for social change. It always has been, ever since the days of Ancient Greece. If we can impart joy / compassion / hope / laughter / inspiration to the audience, we’ve done our job – and that’s rewarding.
What’s been a funny moment for you on stage? Any mishaps you want to share?
There are always mishaps! But, a REAL pro doesn’t let the audience know something has gone awry. So, I will abstain on this!
Are there any shows you recommend we should see? (Apart from Aladdin!)
I just got to see the revival of CAROUSEL on Broadway. Wow. What a cast! I have some dear friends in the company. My buddy Joshua Henry is giving a definitive performance as Billy (what a voice!), and my dear friend Lindsay Mendez is showing that audience night after night WHY she snatched the Tony Award this year for best featured actress in a musical! The entire company is exquisite.
You released a solo LP in 2012; do you plan to release more?
Absolutely! I love collaborating with my musicians, who are all incredible Broadway pit musicians I’ve met over the years. They are incredible, and the albums are a musical collaboration between all of us. It’s a true labour of love. We have two albums – “I’LL COVER YOU” (2012) & “SONGS FOR YOU” (2015) and we are all so proud of these projects.
If you hadn’t have been an actor what would you be doing?
I love languages and I love travel. I’ve always dreamed of learning as many languages as I could, and then working at the UN as a translator.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I love to be a “vegetable” on my couch and just hang out with my husband at home, watching RuPaul’s Drag Race or catching up on Netflix when I’m home. A life in showbiz is so active and requires so much presence that in my free time, I try to “check out” as much as I can and give my brain a break.
Do you think the industry has changed a lot since you started out?
Social media has completely changed the way we interact with fans and supporters of the theatre. I love it! I love it as a way to connect to our audience in an immediate way. That is not to say that one doesn’t have to take great care in what they put out on social media! Like any art, it is a statement. One must treat social media with the same care and clarity that they do their art.
What advice would you give to someone who would like to get into the theatre industry?
GO TO CLASS!!! It takes a great deal of training to make what we do on-stage or on–screen look easy and natural. The learning process never ends. I’ve been on Broadway for over 15 years, and I still go to class. A true artist never stops being a student.
Who are your influences and inspirations?
I’m very inspired by my immigrant parents, who came to this country with nothing more than $200 bucks and a few suitcases. They gave me sense of discipline and work ethic – which EVERYONE needs if they intend to get into show business. I’m inspired by the incredible teachers I’ve had in my life – which is why I do a fair bit of teaching myself now that I’m old enough to have something to give back to the next generation of performers. My fellow colleagues and artists on Broadway constantly inspire me.
What’s your go to song for auditions or just singing in the shower?
I’m a huge Whitney Houston fan, so I’m often belting out a Whitney tune in the shower.
Is there a role (regardless of gender) you would love to play in a musical?
I will never get to play this role because I am the wrong race and gender – but I’d love to play CELIE in THE COLOR PURPLE. What an emotional journey to take, night after night. I’d also love to tackle THE EMCEE in CABARET one day!
Where can people follow your work on Twitter/Facebook/YouTube etc?