By Craig J Horsley
In Telly Leung’s cabaret show, called What Makes a Man at 54 Below, we not only see what makes a man, but we see what makes a great evening of entertainment. Telly is a charming, funny and talented performer. The evening is a wonderful combination of humor, excellent song selection, and a strong and beautiful voice.
Starting the evening with Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” and Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind,” Telly informs us that rather than salute the divas we expect to hear on a cabaret stage, he will salute the male singers and composers that influenced his life. He weaves his personal story, starting with growing up in New York with his immigrant family, with songs that have been important to him. Telly wins the audience over with his first humorous anecdote of how he got his name; his parents’ English language education was enhanced by watching American pop culture, specifically a certain cop show called Kojak.
He sings his favorite lullaby, the Beatles “In My Life,” and then moves on to tell us how he was bullied in grade school due to his round shape and high pitched voice. Thankfully that awkward high pitched voice has turned into a lovely tenor. Reenacting his grade school talent shows, he creates true belly laughs from the audience.
Telly has been a theater performer for years playing such diverse roles as Tony in West Side Story, Barnaby in Hello Dolly! and Angel in Rent. Here we get to hear him sing tunes from each of those landmark shows in his own heartfelt way; “Something’s Coming,” “Before the Parade Passes By,” and “I Will Cover You.” The latter two of these appear on his new CD.
Telly debuted on Broadway in Flower Drum Song and he relays to us how Billy Porter, currently in Kinky Boots, was instrumental in getting him that part. It is a sentimental story of heartfelt gratitude which makes this evening a full emotional journey of laughs and tears.
The title of Telly’s show comes from a song in the Broadway bound musical Allegiance, in which he will be originating his first Broadway role. Both the star of the upcoming show, George Takkei, and composer and book writer, James Kuo, were there to support Telly. Based on his performance of this song, I look forward to seeing him back on Broadway.
Telly’s most visible role to date has been on the TV show, Glee, where he portrayed a high school glee club member. In that show, he and his glee club sang “Teenage Dream;” here he solos while playing the piano with a mellower version.
The evening was a perfect mix of song, laughter and sentiment delivered by a gifted performer who knows how to relate to his audience. I don’t want to spoil any more of the moments for anyone who plans to see the show in the future and I do hope there will be future performances.
Mr. Leung is accompanied by a talented group of musicians: Gary Adler on piano, Mary Ann McSweeney on bass, Michael Croiter on drums and Brian Koonin on guitar.
Telly may be most widely known as a high school student in the TV show Glee, but I assure you Mr. Leung is a mature talented performer that knows how to please an audience. I look forward to seeing Mr. Leung again and again.