Born and raised in New York, for Telly Leung Broadway was always just “a token away.” By the age of 22, he was making his Broadway debut in the 2002 revival of Flower Drum Song, appearing alongside Tony winner Lea Salonga. Now, 15 years later, he’s stepping onto the iconic flying carpet as the title role in Disney’s smash hit musical Aladdin.
“This is my seventh Broadway show,” says Leung, “and every time I walk through a stage door, it still feels like the most exciting feeling in the world. Every single time. It never gets old.”
Leung has walked through his fair share of stage doors, both on Broadway—in shows like In Transit, Allegiance, and Godspell—and regionally, in the Chicago production of Wicked. He’s done some “big” shows, says the actor, but none match the size of Aladdin. “Aladdin is a lot of show. It’s the biggest musical I’ve ever done.” With a cast of 39, and a large backstage crew and front of house staff, the Broadway production employs about 180 people nightly.
Aladdin is also a hugely demanding role, physically, and Leung has had to ramp up his gym and cardio routine during the intense, four-week rehearsal period. “It’s just a blast,” says Leung, who, as well as learning how to ride magic carpets, is relishing watching the show from the sound board every night. “What I love about the rehearsal process is that I get to sit in the house and absorb the joy that people get from it—whether it’s people like me, who grew up loving the movie, or kids discovering it for the first time.”
That much of the audience will be experiencing their first Broadway show with Aladdin has not escaped him, and he admits to feeling some of the pressure of living up to audiences’ expectations and the 1992 film’s legacy. “It’s a dream and it’s also nerve-wracking as well,” he admits. And backstage, there’s a different kind of responsibility that comes with being the leading man of a company. “There’s an energy and a morale that you have to keep up,” Leung says. “I learned that from some pretty phenomenal leading men and women during my career… Now I get the honor of doing that.”
And as a leading man, Leung is especially looking forward to upholding a certain backstage tradition of his: knocking on each cast member’s door and saying hello before every curtain. “There are a lot of dressing rooms at the New Amsterdam, and a lot of people, but I’m going to try,” he says. “I feel like early in my career, I loved performing and that’s what drove me… but now, it’s about the group of people that you get to do it with—and the folks of Agrabah couldn’t be nicer.”
Watch Leung rehearse his solo show below: