Telly Leung: Interview

Rent is where I first heard of you, so I guess we'll back into that, so how did you get to Rent?

Rent was my third Broadway show. My first Broadway show... well, I went to Carnegie Mellon to study musical theater, and there's a long tradition of wonderful artists and musical theater talents that come from Carnegie, and I feel like I would be nowhere today without that education. It's an incredible education.

And Billy Porter was an alumnus who came back and directed my senior musical, which was Company. I played Bobby in Company. Billy's first Broadway show was the original company of Miss Saigon, so he knew a lot of the Asian-American actors in the community and his dance captain for Miss Saigon was also the dance captain on the upcoming revival, in 2002, of Flower Drum Song, starring Lea Salonga.

So, no agent, no anything, Billy ended up making a phone call to his friend saying, 'I know you're the dance captain of this new show. There's this kid at Carnegie Mellon, and I think he's perfect for your show. If I put him on a Greyhound after our tech rehearsal for Company, can he audition for this?' And they were like, Yes, so I did!

I finished tech around midnight, got on a Greyhound bus from Pittsburgh to New York, got off the bus around 8 or 9, and went straight to my first Broadway dance audition. And that was my first Broadway show. Insane.

That's not the struggle we normally hear about...

It was not the typical story, but it was just the right thing at the right time. I was the right person, they needed an understudy for Jose Llana, so it ended up working out. Literally at my audition they were like, 'So you're doing Company at college right now?!' and I was like 'Yes,' and they were 'We need a cover for our leading man, sing 'Being Alive.'' And it was perfect, because I had just sang it the night before in tech, so there was nothing I knew better as far as audition songs.

My second Broadway show was the revival of Sondheim's Pacific Overtures at Roundabout at Studio 54 in 2005, which was super exciting, to get to work with Stephen Sondheim while he's still around and alive, and have him give notes and adjustments, and also to work with the amazing John Weidman, who also wrote the book to Assassins, and also to work with Amon Miyamoto, who was our director and is the first Asian person to ever direct a musical on Broadway. Ever. So, super exciting and kind of landmark and legendary.

And from Pacific Overtures, Joe Mantello, who had done Assassins, saw me in Pacific Overtures, and put me as Boq in the first cast of Wicked in Chicago. My Wicked contract was up after a year, I came home, and the first job I did was Godspell at the Paper Mill. And during Godspell at the Paper Mill was when I met my friend Robin De Jesus, who was just leaving Rent at the time, to go do In The Heights. He said they were trying to replace him and looking for an Angel cover, so he was the one who told me about the audition and he and I were in that first incarnation of Godspell together. And that's how Rent started.


elph's picture

A most thorough... and impressive interview!

It truly makes Telly Leung "come alive!"

Very much appreciate the connections made with George Takei and referencing his contributions to LGBT issues.