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'In Transit' Star Telly Leung Talks Broadway

Category Broadway

|by Matthew Wexler |

Actor Telly Leung takes us behind the scenes of 'In Transit,' the groundbreaking musical on Broadway

At first glance, you might think Telly Leung is on the express train to success. Currently appearing in the hit a cappella musical In Transit on Broadway, he’s hit a stride few actors ever achieve, but Telly is anything but an overnight success, with a staggering six Broadway shows under his belt by the age of 37.

Born to Chinese immigrant parents and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Telly (named after Telly Savalas — star of the 1970s television series Kojak) didn’t grow up going to the theater and only discovered the world of musicals through public television and the taped broadcast of the original Broadway company of Into the Woods. A scholarship to Carnegie Mellon University landed him in one of the most coveted training programs in the country (alumni include Megan Hilty and Billy Porter) and it was Porter’s recommendation after directing him in a college production of Company that helped him land his first Broadway show, the 2002 revival of Flower Drum Song.

But In Transit is unlike anything that’s appeared on Broadway before. Directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall (Nice Work If You Can Get It, Anything Goes), the show relies on the cast to create the score entirely through vocals. Telling the interwoven stories of 11 New Yorkers navigating their lives as well as the city’s notoriously fickle public transportation, the show strikes a chord with locals and tourists alike. Telly offers insights as to how the cast pulls it off, as well as some of his favorite New York City hot spots. 


Justin Guarini and Telly Leung in In Transit (Photo by: Joan Marcus)

How does In Transit capture the spirit of New York City?
Anyone’s who’s lived here or spent time here will relate to In Transit. There is a subway culture and it’s so much a part of my life. We’re always trying to get from point A to B, but this show asks: What is happening during that in-between time — from where you are to where you want to go? It’s a metaphor for life. We’ll all trying to get somewhere. It’s about being human.

What is your character’s journey?
My character, Steven, comes from a liberal, accepting home. He’s engaged to Trent (played by Justin Guarini), who comes from a conservative background and still is not out of the closet. They take a trip to Texas to tell Trent’s mother but it doesn’t quite turn out that way and Steven questions whether they should get married at all. Eventually, they find a resolution. It shows that all relationships take work – there are going to be “train delays.”

It must have been a unique audition experience, given the vocal demands?
It happened very quickly for a Broadway show. I only had two auditions, part of which included sight singing, which I’ve never had to do in an audition. This show requires not just being a good singer but also being a good musician. Our voices are used as instruments to create the string section, guitar, bass, trumpet, etc. and we have to achieve a communal blend to serve the piece.

I grew up on piano lessons and played clarinet and saxophone, so there’s a musician inside of me — who is needed to sing 11-part harmony for 90 minutes!

Unlike other Broadway shows, the actors wear inner ear buds — what are you hearing?
We hear three things: a click-track, which keeps us in tempo; starting pitches (it’s a cappella, after all!); and our musical supervisor, Rick Hip-Flores. The cast actually sings the underscoring and often we can’t see or hear each other so Rick is our eyes and ears. I also have to give a shout out to sound designer Ken Travis because each of our feeds is customized and totally different than what the audience hears. It wasn’t only about adapting to Circle in the Square’s unique space and conflicting radio frequencies, but engineering a mix that independently supports each actor.

Since In Transit is so much about the New York City experience and you’re a born and bred New Yorker, what are two can’t miss experiences that you’d recommend to visitors?
1. It’s going to sound cheesy, but I still love Times Square. It feels like the center of the universe… one in which you can listen to different languages and where you can celebrate the city’s diversity.

2. My other favorite place to go is the Metropolitan Museum of Art, specifically the Temple of Dendur, one of the most important exhibits of Egyptian culture. 

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