Telly Leung is a big musical theater name. He’s a Broadway veteran who has appeared in shows like Rent, Allegiance, and currently plays the title role in Aladdin on Broadway. Plus, “Glee” fans will remember him as Wes, one of the legendary Warblers! Telly has released a new digital single as the holiday season approaches- and it’s an updated version of the holiday classic “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” His single will benefit the organization ASTEP (Artists Striving to End Poverty). So YEM spoke with Telly about his new single, his career, and some of his most memorable roles!
Credit: Matthew Murphy
Young Entertainment Mag: You’re currently starring in “Aladdin” on Broadway. Were you a fan of “Aladdin” before joining the show?
Telly Leung: Absolutely! I remember my dad taking me to the movie theater to see “Aladdin” when it first came out in 1992, and I loved it. I think I connected to it because the hero wasn’t a Disney princess, but this street-rat guy who became a prince. It was, in many ways, an animated action-adventure, buddy comedy, and a great movie to watch with my dad was a kid. I was also blown away by Robin Williams’ incredible performance.
YEM: The live action “Aladdin” movie is coming out next year! So are you excited to see it?
Telly: I am! I’m always excited to see how other artists interpret a story I know so well. The trailer looks amazing.
Credit: Matthew Murphy
YEM: This isn’t your first time on Broadway. You previously starred in “Allegiance” on Broadway. And a documentary about it is being released soon. What was that experience like?
Telly: Many people don’t know this, but a new Broadway musical takes many years of development before it gets to a Broadway stage. “Allegiance” opened on Broadway in 2015, but I started developing the show back in 2009. We did many readings, workshops, and even took the show out of town to San Diego in 2012 to test it out. The show only ran on Broadway for four months, but so what? The fact that we even got the musical to Broadway is a miracle. So I’m thrilled that the documentary will give theater fans a new appreciation for the blood, sweat, tears, and TIME it takes a Broadway musical to actually make it to Broadway.
YEM: Allegiance featured a primarily Asian cast. Do you think the Asian community is being represented more? Especially with projects such as this, “Crazy Rich Asians,” and “Fresh Off the Boat,” etc?
Telly: I am a big fan of “Crazy Rich Asians,” and I think it’s amazing that the film did as well as it did. That being said, I think we still have a long way to go, and we have so many stories yet to be told by Asian and Asian-American artists in the media. “Crazy Rich Asians” has opened a lot of doors for artists in my community, and I’m excited to see what comes next! I think there is greater Asian representation, and I’m thrilled about that. But, I long for the day that we don’t even have to talk about “Asian representation” anymore because the lack of representation isn’t an issue anymore.
YEM: This holiday season, you’re releasing a new holiday single! Do you have a favorite holiday song?
Telly: YES! My favorite has always been Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas is You.”
YEM: What made you decide to choose “All I Want for Christmas is You” as the song you would perform? (Other than it being your favorite).
Telly: My dear friend Lynne Shankel actually created this arrangement just for me. (She was the musical supervisor and orchestrator of “Allegiance”). She knows that I have a fond affection for singers like Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey. And she wanted to arrange a Christmas classic in that style, just for me. So I was very honored and flattered. I think we’ve come up with something that my Broadway listeners aren’t used to hearing from me. It’s more of a soulful, rock sound we’ve come up with.
YEM: The single is benefiting ASTEP. How did you begin to get involved with the organization?
Telly: Lynne is a big supporter of ASTEP, and we first premiered “All I Want For Christmas is You” at her yearly holiday benefit concert for ASTEP several years ago. We decided to record it with our dear friend Michael Croiter at Yellow Sound Label, and give the proceeds to ASTEP so they can continue to do great work, bringing arts to underserved communities around the globe. So please check them out at ASTEP.org.
YEM: Finally, our readers remember you from “Glee” as Wes! So do you have fond memories of playing a Warbler?
Telly: I have such fond Warbler memories. Those boys are like brothers to me. I’m so proud of what everyone is doing. We keep in touch, and we support each other in our endeavors. Curt, Dominic, and Titus have come to see me in “Aladdin.” I love spotting Titus on promos for his new show, “The Rookie.” I went to cheer on Darren in “Hedwig.” And I jumped up and down with joy when he won the Emmy for “Versace”! Jon Hall is playing Fiyero in “Wicked” on the road. Chris Mann is an international singing sensation. Some of the boys now have college degrees and amazing jobs outside of showbiz. Some of the boys are engaged. And some are even married with kids. It’s all very exciting – and it makes me smile to think of them.