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Actor Spotlight: Telly Leung of ‘In Transit’ and ‘Glee’

Category Broadway

|by Amy Sapp |

Actor Telly Leung takes a break from rehearsals of 'In Transit’ to share his thoughts on the term

Ask actor Telly Leung about starring in a Broadway show. The jolt of energy for him as a performer comes not from a leading man status but rather from the sense of community he garners from his castmates: “I love being a leading man, but the theater that really is like the sugar in my coffee is ensemble theater. That’s the kind of theater I really love.”

Leung’s most recent exposure on the Broadway stage came from his starring status in George Takei’s first musical, Allegiance. Leung played alongside the Star Trek legend, assuming the role of a younger version of Takei’s character, Sam. Professionally, Leung made his Broadway debut in the 2002 revival of Flower Drum Song, also starring Allegiance co-star and Broadway legend Lea Salonga. His Broadway career only grew from this ensemble role, leading to performing onstage in the 2005 revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures, originating the role of Boq in Wicked on the Chicago stage and belting in the final Broadway cast of Rent. Leung’s career, however, has not stopped at the stage; from 2010 to 2011, Leung held a coveted, reoccurring role as a member of the Warblers in Fox’s beloved television series, Glee.

Today, Leung is busy in rehearsals of In Transit, the groundbreaking a cappella musical coming to the Circle in the Square Theatre this fall. According to its creative team, “In Transit is a new, modern musical, bringing to life a vivid tapestry of characters and music in the city that never sleeps — or stands still. Inspired by the vibrant rhythms of life on the subway, In Transit follows the intertwining lives of eleven New Yorkers, all hoping to catch the express train to success, love and happiness — and the stops they make along the way.”

Telly Leung took a break from rehearsals to open up to us about his newest role on Broadway.

Telly Leung (center) and the cast of ‘Allegiance’ (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

Telly Leung (center) and the cast of ‘Allegiance’ (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

What experience do you have with a cappella, before landing In Transit?
I have never had any experience with a cappella. This is my first time doing anything with a cappella. Our cast is comprised of so many people that were part of a college a cappella group or something they were really into like glee club, and that just wasn’t me. That wasn’t something that I did in high school. I when to Stuyvesant High School High School, which is very math and science. I went to Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh to study theater, so we did a lot of theater but never any a cappella. So, it was a brand new experience for me to be singing a song but constantly making sound, which is a challenge. You never stop. So, it is a test of stamina — but it is also super fun! I have never beat-boxed before, and there are some sounds that I never thought I could make with my vocal instrument — and we’re doing them. It is because we have the incredible a cappella arranger, Deke Sharon, who did all of the vocal arrangements for Pitch Perfect, as well, and he was also involved in the Sing Off. He is kind of the father of modern a cappella right now. And it is because of Deke who is giving thisBroadway actor a crash course in a cappella, that this is at all possible.

You mentioned the need to sing constantly during In Transit. Is there something you have found yourself doing to build up that vocal stamina?
I think all Broadway performers have a certain, disciplined lifestyle that we lead because we have to sing eight times a week. I think for this show, because it is 90 minutes of straight singing for all of us, we have to be even more disciplined, taking care of our bodies, eating the right foods and getting the right sleep; before you take any voice lessons or do years of studying the thing, actually the most important part is making sure that your instrument is tuned up. That just means eating healthily, staying rested and all of that. Being on Broadway is hard, but I think that being in this show is even harder when it comes to vocal discipline.

Have you found a common thread between your work on George Takei’s musical, Allegiance, and now In Transit?
It is interesting. Allegiance was my first time being a leading man in a show, and that was a great challenge and a blessing for me as an artist to get the opportunity to do that, especially as an Asian-American actor. To get to be a leading man in a Broadway show is rare. So for me, I really relished the opportunity to do it. But the theater I really love is this kind of theater. This is true ensemble theater; there is no star of In Transit. While you might have your moment onstage while your character is singing a solo, every other moment in the show, you are singing ooo’s and ah’s and dip’s and dah’s and shoobop’s for somebody else. You are singing the shoobop’s behind someone else, and that is the beauty of the show is that it is truly an ensemble show. That is the sort of theater I relish anyways. Godspell was like that. Rent was like that. So for me, it is what makes theater great. I think it really captures that sort of community feeling of theater and how it takes a village to really create an evening.

What is it that draws you to embracing ensemble theater?
I love to perform, but I am finding that the more I do this, it is not just about getting up onstage and getting the applause. It is also about collaboration with these incredible artists that you meet. It is getting to collaborate with people like Deke Sharon and people like Kathleen Marshall, whom I have been a fan of for so long with her work on Broadway. It is getting to be in a sandbox with those people and creating with them; that is exciting to me. It is the people, and that is why I think the ensemble theater thing really speaks to me.

I love this common thread of community in your life and career in New York.
I think some of that is, too, because I grew up as an only child. I love that feeling of every show I join is a new group of brothers and sisters that I have accumulated in my life. And I do view them as family because you often spend more time with these people in a theater and in rehearsals than you do with your real family. My parents live in Brooklyn, but we have been in rehearsals here [for In Transit]; I see these people here in the studios more than I have seen my own parents in the last few months! They become your family.

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