High Flying, Adored

Telly Leung Lands In Provincetown

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by Steve Desroches

Telly Leung is still coming down from the Wednesday matinee performance of Aladdin, quite literally. Eight times a week Leung soars 17 feet above the stage on a magic carpet at the New Amsterdam Theatre on Broadway as the musical’s title character, along with Arielle Jacobs, who portrays Jasmine. In addition to talent, focus, and commitment, it also takes athleticism to succeed on Broadway, even when not hovering over the magical city of Agrabah. As he sits in his dressing room, resting in preparation for performing the hit show that evening, he chuckles at the nerves he felt the first time he went flying. But now, with experience and faith in the abilities of the Disney crew, it’s all just part of a day’s work.

Since making his Broadway debut in 2002 as part of the ensemble in Flower Drum Song Leung’s career has been a magic carpet ride through shows like Thoroughly Modern Millie, Wicked, Rent, Godspell, and The Secret Garden. The native New Yorker continues to shine as one of the brightest stars of musical theater. But he’s taking a brief break from singing and dancing with a mischievous genie to come to Provincetown for a one-night-only performance at the Crown and Anchor where he steps out from behind all the characters he’s played for the past 15 years and sings some of his favorite songs and tells stories from his life and career.

“I’ve been in a lot of Broadway shows, but I love the chance to get to do a solo show,” says Leung. “It’s not Telly as Aladdin or Telly as Angel, it’s just Telly.”

Leung first came to Provincetown three years ago when he and fellow Rent alum Anthony Rapp appeared together in a concert performance at the Provincetown Theater. But he’s always had it as a goal to return to Provincetown after falling in love with town on first sight while warming up the stage for his friend Rapp (who will also present a solo show at the Crown August 25). The stage in the Paramount room at the Crown swirls with an important energy for Leung, as his mentor, the sensational Tony Award winner Billy Porter frequently performs there, as well.

Photo: Matthew Murphy/courtesy of Disney Theatrical Productions

Both alumni of Carnegie Mellon University’s competitive College of Fine Arts in Pittsburgh, Porter had returned to his alma mater and saw Leung in a campus production. At the time, Porter was in the ensemble of the Broadway production of Miss Saigon. As Leung notes, it has long been a struggle for actors of color on Broadway, particularly those of Asian descent. He adds that the community of Asian-American actors is not six degrees of separation from each other, but two, as there are so few. But Broadway is changing, thanks in part to people like Porter, who, when he heard of a revival of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Flower Drum Song set in San Francisco’s Chinatown with an all Asian cast, got Leung a bus ticket and an audition, opening a door he had gone through wider for a newcomer like Leung.

As Broadway producers and directors increasingly embrace colorblind casting and expand storytelling opportunities to playwrights and composers traditionally left out, the theaters of New York are sharing new perspectives and viewpoints in shows like Kinky Boots and Fun Home. Leung says it’s a wonderful time to be part of the Broadway community as it’s a prime example of how diversity makes us stronger. As he looks around at his fellow actors bringing the story of Aladdin to life, he revels in the fact that they actually reflect the diversity of America while creating the fictional Agrabah.

“I want it to represent the diversity of Times Square,” says Leung. “I want the people in the audience to feel part of our world. For that to happen, the actors on the stage have to represent the audience. And we do. It’s a very exciting time on Broadway.”

It’s also an important time for art in America. Leung was part of the original cast of Allegiance, a musical inspired by the experiences of actor George Takei, who grew up in an internment camp when American citizens of Japanese descent were round up by the U.S. government after Pearl Harbor and imprisoned because of their race. Leung created the role of Sam Kimura in the 2012 production at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego and then in the original Broadway cast three years later at the Longacre Theater.

Leung was with his co-stars of Allegiance recording the cast album on December 7, 2015, which was not only the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, but also the day that frontrunner for the Republican nomination Donald Trump said he wanted a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the country after the shooting in San Bernardino, committed by two immigrants originally from Pakistan. Trump’s words shook the cast and were even more chilling considering the subject matter of the work they were recording. As a gay man of color with immigrant parents, Leung saw Trump as a distinctive threat to him and to the values of a free and equal America. Leung says that now it’s more important than ever that the arts speak out.

“America has made a lot of progress, but America has a long way to go when we elect a man like that,” says Leung. “Some say it wasn’t even a legitimate election, and there may be some truth to that, but the story of Allegiance is an American story. It tells the story of when America messed up. We need to make sure it doesn’t happen again. It’s not just our job to entertain, but to educate. Art is more important than ever. It shines light and truth on what is happening now.”

Telly Leung performs at the Crown and Anchor, 247 Commercial St., Provincetown, Sunday, August 5 at 7 p.m. Tickets ($35 general/$50 preferred/$65 VIP) are available at the box office and online at onlyatthecrown.com. For more information call 508.487.1430.