The Fairy Princess continues to add to the fervor building up to the Broadway Opening of the show, ALLEGIANCE, with another Cast Interview before it opens on November 8th.
This time, with Carnegie Mellon Grad, Telly Leung, who plays the role of young Sam Kimura – the elder version of Sam is played by George Takei.
TFP: We are here with Telly Leung, talking about ALLEGIANCE – so, when did you know that ALLEGIANCE was headed to Broadway?
TL: Oh gosh. I remember the day very clearly, you know getting a theater is the hardest part of getting a Broadway show going – and that was the last piece of the puzzle that wasn’t filled. I remember being on the street, on 53rd and 8th, heading to a rehearsal, and I ran into my Producer, Lorenzo Thione! He told me on the street and he told me “You can’t tell anyone else, I can’t believe I’m running into you today, because I just heard”.
So it happened in the best of all possible places – right in the theater district – right on 53rd and 8th – on a cold November day, I remember. So I knew well before there was an announcement and I had to sit on the secret for a long time, which was so hard to do, but jumping up and down, so happy.
TFP: So that is my next question – did you dance?
TL: We definitely did a little dance together, I think people on on 8th Avenue thought we were crazy people, there’s a little Chinese boy and a tall Italian Producer jumping up and down on the street together…
TFP: Or maybe they thought you were going to an Open Call and just warming up?
TL: Or that.
TFP: Who was the first person you told?
TL: The first person, even though I was supposed to sit on the secret, and not tell anyone – I told my Partner of eleven years, I told Jimmy.
TFP: You didn’t tell your Mom!
TL: I did not tell my Mom. (laughs) I felt like Mom was so new to the social media thing, she might have spilled it – she might have been texting my Dad and posted it on FaceBook or something. I don’t trust my Parents yet with that, but I told them eventually. (laughs)
TFP: That’s good (Laughs). As an Asian American what is the thing you want people to take away from this show the most?
TL: First of all, I think the show is not just for Asian American’s, I think all audiences are going to relate to the show. Of course Asian Americans have a very special connection to this show – but I have had …audience members who have had Family that have gone through the Concentration Camp experience and say that this show relates to them. I have had …audience members who have come up to me afterwards and said that “I totally understand the story of what it is like to be an American but judged on the color of your skin’, it related to them. I think the show touches everyone.
But specifically to the Asian American community, there is a pressure and there is so much riding on ALLEGIANCE being a successful show.
TL: Because there are very few opportunities and very few Asian stories being told on Broadway – for whatever reason that is. Whether Producers feel like they can’t take the risk to tell those stories, or they feel that audiences don’t want to pay for those stories on Broadway, whatever that means – I don’t think that is true – but those opportunities have not existed.
TFP: So you find yourselves at much higher stakes, it’s not just as simple (not that it’s ever simple) as opening a Broadway show – this show could open up a whole new conversation for Asian Americans on Broadway, and that must feel both a blessing and a burden.
TL: If you look at it, FLOWER DRUM SONG, KING AND I, PACIFIC OVERTURES, and MISS SAIGON – that’s all there was – and Saigon was 1991, so from 1991 till now, there hasn’t been this kind of Asian presence on Broadway.
TFP: Yes, you will join KING AND I, currently at Lincoln Center on Broadway in an open ended run, and then prior to that, the only other show where Asians were featured was HERE LIES LOVE, based on Imelda Marcos, but it played Downtown at The Public where it kept getting extended.
TL: HERE LIES LOVE also existed at a Not for Profit (theater) so they could take the risk to do that.
TFP: Exactly, and it sold out, proving that diverse stories can reach anyone with a mind to listen to them. However the difference – not just Uptown/Downtown – between HERE LIES LOVE and ALLEGIANCE is that, HERE LIES LOVE was set entirely in the Philippines, and ALLEGIANCE is an American story.
It happened in America, it is part of the fabric of America and the internment has repercussions to this day. It is the first entirely original musical (FLOWER DRUM SONG was based on a novel by CY LEE) to tell the story of Asian heritaged people, in America. There is definitely pressure there, to succeed, from the Asian American community, you can smell it.
What is your hope as you approach your Broadway Opening Night?
TL: The dream of all dreams is that, of course, ALLEGIANCE is successful, of course I want the show to be successful, but if it IS successful that would mean that perhaps that audiences would say “We want to hear more stories about Japanese Americans, we want to hear more stories about Chinese Americans, Korean Americans, Indian Americans, Middle Eastern Americans – We want to hear more stories of Americans of Color”
With all of these shows (this season) that feature very diverse casts and very unique American stories by and about People of Color – I think this is a landmark year in the theater – and I’m proud that ALLEGIANCE is such a big part of that movement. I think it’s more than just “Hey, we’re putting on a show’, I think the reverberations of this will last for many years.
TFP: Totally agree.
First thing you did when you knew the show was ‘frozen”? Did you collapse? Did you go get a smoothie?
TL: Our director, Stafford Arima, has this tradition, that when a show is frozen, he passes around ice. In San Diego, it was a pitcher of ice that he had put in the freezer in the first day of previews and he took this big pitcher of ice out and passed it around and told everyone to touch it. When we froze the show on Friday he passed around a big bag of ice that he got from the corner store and we all touched this wet bag of ice, it was a tradition I love, and I think I’m going to carry on with me.
TFP: It’s very Titanic of you. OK – first present you bought yourself with your Broadway money?
TL: Oh gosh – I’m so Chinese and practical…(laughs)
TFP: Did you put it in the bank?
TL: I am a good Chinese boy, my Parents raised me well…
TFP Lea put it in the bank.
TL: I also put it in the bank. (laughs) This is my fifth Broadway show, and you know, I’ve definitely been in hits and I”ve been in shows that have not been hits. I’ve always been told by Actors who I look up to in this business that you have to save for a rainy day, because as an Actor you’ll probably have more rainy days than sunny days…so…I put it away. And who knows? Maybe some day I’ll spend it on a really nice dinner or a vacation…
TFP: OK what’s your must have in your dressing room?
TL: Grether’s pastille – sugar free black currant pastille, a big tin of them.
TFP: Weirdest/best gift you have gotten from a fan.
TL: There is a wonderful gift giving culture in Japan, and I did RENT in Tokyo for a month. When we did RENT, there would be 1,000 people outside the theater with gifts of all kinds, food or origami, it was just a way of saying thank you (for viewing the performance). The most extravagant gift I ever got was all these clothes from DIESEL.
TL: DIESEL is expensive, I don’t necessarily splurge DIESEL clothes often, and I was like “I can’t possibly accept!” and this fan said “No, you should take this” – somehow this fan knew my size and what would fit me!
TFP: Ok that’s weird…
TL: I thought – this is bizarre and wild, but it would be rude not to accept the gift..
TFP: I would totally accept something from DIESEL
TL: But it was a wonderful gift and I still have it, and thank you – and if that fan is reading this – thank you very much!
TFP: IF you had to have a celebrity cut out in your dressing room, who would it be? You know, to give high fives to before you go on, or as a good luck charm kind of thing?
TL: Because I’m such a Broadway nerd – can I have two?
TL: I need one of Carol… Channing
TFP: Of course
TL: And I need one of Elaine Stritch.
TFP: Aww, that’s nice.
TL: Those two. I would sort of like to have them flanking me. My Grandparents are no longer with me, but I always secretly wanted Carol Channing and Elaine Stritch to be my Grandparents. I met her once (Carol Channing) at the Magic Castle, when she was doing a benefit for her Education program, and she was absolutely lovely.
Seeing her in HELLO DOLLY changed my life, seeing her at the Lunt Fontane changed my life – because at the time she was in her 70’s and still never missed a show and was commanding a stage and I looked and I said “If she can do it” – it was inspiring.
And in many ways, George is so inspiring to me – watching George Takei make his Broadway debut at 78…it is a sign that it is never too late to fulfill whatever dream it is you had, he is the living embodiment of that for me. Your Broadway dreams can come true whenever, and for George it happened at 78!
Getting to watch him love this experience and go through all of the first things – first preview and the Gypsy Run, and Opening night…
TFP: Oh wait till he sees the Gypsy Robe, he’s going to go crazy!
TL: You know, he’s learning all this at 78, it’s wild and wonderful to go through this with him.
TFP: Well, it’s been wonderful to watch you all on this journey – and it’s only just beginning – Thanks very much for chatting Telly, and Break A Leg!