By Marivir R. Montebon
New York City – Aladdin lead star Telly Leung has proven his versatility as a stage actor for Aladdin, his seventh outing as a Broadway artist, while simply loving the ‘diverse community’ of actors that he belongs to.
Disney’s hit Broadway musical that opened in 2014 took in Leung for the title role starting on June 13 this year. Since its opening at the New Amsterdam Theater, Aladdin has set 12 new house records and performed before four million people across the globe – in London, Hamburg, Tokyo, and Melbourne.
Before this OSM! interview, Leung took us on a tour backstage where the glittery and colossal props of the musical were stored, as well as memorabilia of the old theater before Disney turned it into a truly spunky one while retaining its classic beauty.
“I grew up hearing the story of Aladdin. And now it feels like the 12-year-old me is getting to play the role. It is amazing,” he beamed.
Asked what it means to him having to play Aladdin which is stereotypically Middle-eastern, Leung pointed out that the well-loved folklore of the One Thousand and One Nights is actually of Chinese origin and that Aladdin was a Chinese fellow.
“Art expands the mind. Disney has made it a so magical on stage. Agraba is a whole new world where there are people (actors) from all races,” he quipped.
Leung performs with Courtney Reed (In the Heights, Mamma Mia) as Jasmine, Jonathan Freeman (Mary Poppins, The Producers, She Loves Me) as Jaffar, Don Darryl Rivera as Iago, and Major Attaway who debuts as Genie.
Aladdin’s sidekicks Kassim, Babkak, and Omar, who were originally monkeys in the 1992 blockbuster Disney movie, are performed by Steel Burkhardt, Brian Gonzales, and Brad Weinstock. The sidekicks and Iago on stage lent the true humor for the show.
The fabulous and extravagant musical is put together by award-winning greats, with direction and choreography by Tony award winner Casey Nicholaw (Book of Mormon). Its stage is designed by seven-time Tony scenic designer Bob Crowley and lighted by six-time Tony lighting designer winner Natasha Katz while two-time costume designer Gregg Barnes dressed up the entire cast of 37.
Leung has had stunning performances in seven Broadway greats like Godspell, Rent, Wicked, Pacific Overtures, In Transit, and Allegiance where he originated the role of the young Sam Kimura and performed with George Takei and Lea Salonga.
Born and raised in Brooklyn by working parents of Chinese descent, Leung said he realized his interest in theater when he was in high school and auditioned for Pippin in their musical show at the Stuyvesant High School. “At that time, I realized I love being with actors. Even here on Broadway, I love the close-knit relationship of Asian actors. I feel like I belong here,” he said.
As for Aladdin, I asked if singing was difficult while they were flying on the magic carpet, he said, “No, not all. Riding and singing on the magic carpet was actually awesome.” (Bonnie Kwong and Rachelle Ocampo made this interview possible.)