BWW Interviews: Telly Leung Talks GLEE, GODSPELL & Upcoming Role in GREASE

BWW Interviews: Telly Leung Talks GLEE, GODSPELL & Upcoming Role in GREASETelly Leung heads to New Jersey's Paper Mill Playhouse later this month to take on the iconic role of 'Teen Angel' in America's favorite musical, GREASE. The talented actor has appeared on Broadway in Flower Drum Song, Rent and most recently the 2011 revival of Godspell. He is also well known for his role as a member of the Dalton Academy Warblers on the second season of Fox's GLEE.

Today, Leung chats exclusively to BWW about a possible return to GLEE, sharing the RENT experience with Wayne Brady, and proudly taking on the role of an Asian 'Teen Angel!'

How did your casting on Glee come about? Is it true you originally auditioned for the role of Blaine?

Yes. But, there's really not much to the story. Often times, actors living in NYC will make audition tapes and send it to casting directors in LA for television jobs. We do this a lot - and once we send them off, we really don't think anything of it. I sent my tape off, auditioning for Blaine, and I was told they liked the tape - but that they were offering the role to someone else - the very talented, super nice, stellar Darren Criss - who is perfection in that role! But, they wanted me to be a small part of the show anyway as one of his Warbler buddies. The show was coming off an incredibly successful first season - so when I got the call to be part of the second season, I jumped at the opportunity to be part of the phenomenon in any way possible! I've met some wonderful friends working on that project - and I consider those Warbler boys my brothers.

Would you like to return to the show before it ends its run next year?

I think it would be great to have the Warblers all come back - maybe for the wedding between Blaine and Kurt. Wouldn't the Warblers past and present make great groomsmen?

You were involved in the Hollywood Bowl production of Rent, directed by Neil Patrick Harris. I understand that production was put together in just ten days. How was that accomplished and what was that experience like?

It was a frantic time, and putting RENT together in ten days is no small task - especially in a massive venue like the Hollywood Bowl. But, Neil did it right! He got Tim Weill, RENT's original music director and supervisor, and assembled a cast of RENT alums like Aaron Tveit, Tracie Thoms, Gwen Stewart, and myself, and filled out the cast with heavy-hitter, Hollywood talents that have never done the show before - to give it a true Hollywood Bowl treatment!

Neil, who is a member of the RENT family himself, having played Mark, cleverly paired up the couples so that there would be a RENT alum in each pairing, who would be able to share their past RENT experience with their partner. I got to have the wonderful opportunity of sharing RENT with Wayne Brady, who was my Collins - and literally, walk with him hand-in-hand through the show, song by song, beat by beat! It was a dream come true. I love RENT so much - and getting to watch someone fall in love with this piece and join the family was so fulfilling. Watching Wayne discover his Collins, and rediscovering the dynamic between those two beloved characters, after doing the show for many years, made me fall in love with the show all over again - and I have Neil to thank for that!

You starred in Godspell at the Paper Mill, which eventually transferred to Broadway's Circle in The Square

BWW Interviews: Telly Leung Talks GLEE, GODSPELL & Upcoming Role in GREASE

Theater. Were many adjustments made in order to perform the show in the round? How would you compare the two experiences?

There were many adjustments - but the sprit of the show stayed intact. The technical adjustment of going from the Paper Mill, a traditional proscenium stage, to Circle in the Square, in the round, has its obvious challenges, but it was actually not that difficult from the actor's perspective. In fact, I think the production in round was more conducive to the kind of production we wanted to begin with - something that leapt off the stage and filled the house with the joy of that brilliant Stephen Schwartz score! The show has no fourth wall - and the round made it a truly intimate, joyful experience.

Every production of GODSPELL is meant to evolve based on the particular talents of the cast. Uzo Aduba and I were the only two members from the Paper Mill production. Working with a new cast and rediscovering the show for Broadway was such a joy.

You will be playing the role of 'Teen Angel' in Paper Mill's upcoming production of Grease. There have been many different interpretations of this showstopping role, from Frankie Avalon to Billy Porter. Do you have an idea how you want to approach it?

When Daniel Goldstein first asked me to play this role, I asked him the same question: "Do you want 'Frankie Avalon' teen angel, or 'Billy Porter' teen angel?" and his response was: "I want Telly Leung's teen angel." Billy Porter was a teacher of mine at CMU. I consider him a dear friend and mentor - and what he did with that number was out of this planet! I would never dream of trying to recreate that or reproduce that version because (a) I wouldn't come close! and (b) that version was unique to Billy and what he offers as a vocalist and performer. I'm eager to find my "Teen Angel" with this incredible team - Daniel Goldstein, Brad Simmons and Joanne Hunter.

I really applaud Danny and the Paper Mill for having me back at this theater in this particular role. As an Asian actor in this business, I didn't grow up with many "teen idols" to look up to in the media who were also Asian. They were usually Caucasian. Unfortunately, I think that's still true today. For all the Asian kids growing up now, they rarely see a balanced representation of Asian talent on Broadway, TV, and Film. When I was cast in this role, the creative team didn't even consider my ethnicity a thought or an issue - and that is true color-blind casting. In fact, Danny has always been wonderful about that in all his productions. He truly doesn't see 'color', as you can tell from the very diverse casting of the Godspell revival on Broadway! That being said, it means a lot to me, as an Asian actor, to be cast in this role, knowing that maybe, some Asian kid will sit in the audience at Paper Mill and watch me in the show and say to himself: "Look! A 'teen idol' / 'teen angel' can be any ethnicity! He doesn't have to look like a Ken Doll."

What do you think it is about Grease that makes it timeless and appealing to all generations?

Of course, the music is a big factor in making the show a hit for generations. Those songs are timeless, and they harken back to a time when life was simpler. No cell phones. No computers. No Twitter. It was sleep overs and leather jackets and malt shops. I think we all secretly long for those simpler times.

Will this be your first time doing this musical?

Yes - this is my first time tackling GREASE. Excited to get to do it with this team, this cast, at this great theater!

Do you have a favorite song or number from the show?

For obvious reasons, I love "Beauty School Drop Out", but I've always been a fan of "Those Magic Changes" as well. I also love "Since I Don't Have You."

BWW Interviews: Telly Leung Talks GLEE, GODSPELL & Upcoming Role in GREASE

You will be working with a great cast including Broadway's Robin De Jesus. What are you most looking forward to as far as coming together as a company?

I love Robin! We first met doing GODSPELL at the Paper Mill. He sang "We Beseech Thee" - and we were also dressing room mates. When we both got the job, he was the first person I called! "Are you gonna do it? I will if you will!" It's a very happy reunion of two old friends at the theater where they first met. Our dressing room was a very happy place to be and I remember sharing many laughs with him during half hour. I'm really looking forward to hanging out with my buddy again during GREASE. He's the absolute best.

FOX recently announced that they will be doing a live presentation of Grease in 2015. Would this be something you would be interested in being a part of?

Of course! I'd love to be a part of it. I think it's so exciting that musicals are being done in this way. Bravo to Craig Zadan and Neil Meron for starting the trend on NBC with SOUND OF MUSIC! More Broadway and music theater in the consciousness of America will only help to serve the art form - and make sure it thrives for generations to come!

With all your Broadway experience, what advice would you give to an inspiring actor?

To all aspiring actors, never stop being a student! Keep learning. Don't stop.

BWW Interviews: Telly Leung Talks GLEE, GODSPELL & Upcoming Role in GREASEABOUT TELLY LEUNG:

A veteran of RENT's final Broadway cast, Telly Leung made his Broadway debut in the 2002 revival of FLOWER DRUM SONG. He starred in the first Broadway revival of Sondheim's PACIFIC OVERTURES in 2004 and originated the role of Boq in the Chicago company of WICKED. Leung was also featured as a member of the Dalton Academy Warblers opposite Darren Criss on the second season of Fox's GLEE. He returned to Broadway in the 2011 revival of GODSPELL.

He has performed all over the world at venues like Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center, the London Hippodrome, New York's 54 Below, The Old Globe, and the Hollywood Bowl (where LA audiences will remember his performance as Angel in the Bowl's production of RENT, directed by Neil Patrick Harris oppositeWayne Brady). His debut album, {i'll cover you}, was released on The Yellow Sound Label in 2012. Telly holds a BFA from Carnegie Mellon University, and has taught as an adjunct professor at NYU's New Studio on Broadway, and is featured as a Broadway coach on the PBS documentary series BROADWAY OR BUST.


Paper Mill Playhouse concludes its 75th Anniversary Season with America's favorite musical, Grease. With book, music and lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, Grease will be directed by Daniel Goldstein with original choreography byJoAnn M. Hunter. Additional songs are by John Farrar, Barry Gibb, Scott Simon and Louis St. Louis. Grease will play the Millburn, New Jersey, theater from May 28 through June 29, 2014. The official press opening night is Sunday, June 1, at 7:00pm.

The world's #1 musical bursts on to the Paper Mill stage in an all-new production. Grease is a rock-n-roll celebration of growing up and falling in love set in the fabulous fifties. Grease strikes a universal chord with an irresistible mix of fast cars and first loves. It's Danny and Sandy, Frenchy and Kenickie, and don't forget about Rizzo. Grease is a thrilling injection of pure fun with astounding dancing and amazing songs. On Broadway, Grease won seven Tony Awards, a Drama Desk Award and a Theatre World Award.

Grease will be performed at Paper Mill Playhouse eight times a week, Wednesday through Sunday. Performance schedule: Wednesday at 7:00pm, Thursday at 1:30pm and 7:00pm, Friday at 7:00pm, Saturday at 1:30pm and 7:00pm and Sunday at 1:30pm and 7:00pm. Tickets are on sale now and range from $27 to $98. Tickets may be purchased by calling 973.376.4343, at the Paper Mill Playhouse Box Office at 22 Brookside Drive in Millburn, or online at Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express accepted. Groups of 10 or more can receive up to a 40% discount on tickets and should call 973.315.1680. College students can order $20 rush tickets over the phone or in person at the Paper Mill Playhouse Box Office on the day of the performance.

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