Telly Leung at home in Hell's Kitchen
Aladdin on Broadway’s Telly Leung on how he met his husband, his favorite New York hangouts, and what he’d do with his three wishes
My Hell’s Kitchen story
I grew up in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, but Hell’s Kitchen is my home. I went to high school downtown at Stuyvesant HS, and would often come up to Hell’s Kitchen to hang out. That’s when I fell in love with HK. I still remember the old favorites in the neighborhood – The Coffee Pot (which is now Mickey Spillane’s), Pietrasanta (which is now Tumbao), Rachel’s (which is now a Mexican restaurant), the old McHale’s on 45th and 8th (still the best burger I’ve ever had), and The Edison Diner (amazing matzo ball soup). I’d come up here to see a movie at the $3 movie theater (which is now New World Stages) and hang out at Worldwide Plaza. I spent so much of my time hanging out in this hood during my high school years, lining up at the TKTS booth for a half-price ticket or sleeping with the bums on W41st St for my $20 Rent ticket. Those years were so formative to me because I fell in love with NY and theater and this neighborhood. Subconsciously, I think I always dreamed of making the theater district my home.
The best thing about the neighborhood …
I love 9th Avenue. Many in the theater community affectionately call it “the dance belt” because you are constantly running into all your Broadway friends, coming home from a show or dashing to their half-hour calls or rehearsals. There’s a college campus feel to it, and it makes this giant city just a little bit smaller, to be surrounded by this dynamic community.
And the worst …
Times Square. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a beautiful thing to have all these tourists from all over the world come to Times Square, and to hear all the different languages as you pass by. But I wish these tourists weren’t seeing five Mickey Mouse imposters, fake Elsas, and naked women with body paint. That’s not what’s beautiful about NY to me. That’s a tacky tourist trap.
If I really had a genie, these would be my three wishes
1. A long, happy, healthy life with my husband, Jimmy.
2. A super power ... maybe flight.
3. A new president.
My HK crew
The Broadway community. They’re my family. We all work so closely together, and we all lead these crazy gypsy lives with strange schedules. While our 9-5 friends are having fun, we’re working.
My Broadway heroes
All the people that work in the theater that don’t get a bow at the end of the show – the crew, the dressers, the ushers, the box office, the porters. They are truly the unsung heroes of Broadway.
Jimmy, me, and banana margaritas …
We met when I was doing the Broadway revival of Pacific Overtures in 2004 at Studio 54. His best friend from college, Anne McMills, was the associate to our lighting designer on that show – and she set us up! Our first date was at Arriba Arriba. It’s still one of our favorite joints (yum – banana margaritas - “mama” size!). We had a very simple City Hall wedding this last December with three of our closest friends. We wanted to do it before the Inauguration. We had been together for 12 years and felt very strongly about getting married after the shocking election results. As a person of color/son of immigrants/a gay artist, I felt like my rights were going to be under attack. We knew there was going to be a fight ahead, and we wanted to make sure we secured all the rights of being married before this administration tries to take this country backwards and make people like us into second class citizens again.
Where we hang
Joe Allen. The history in this restaurant, and the impeccable service, keeps us coming back here. The wall is decorated with posters of “flop” Broadway shows – and it’s a big reminder of the importance of humility and perseverance when it comes to having a career in showbiz. My drink of choice here is a Ketel One vodka gimlet, and I almost always get the steak.
Tavola. Great Italian food, delicious oven pizzas. They also have a grilled squid appetizer that I love.
44 & 1/2 – I’ll often come here for brunch or dinner with friends. I also like that it’s on 10th Ave, a little bit away from the tourist-heavy areas of 8th and 9th Ave. It feels like it’s a place for locals.
My happy place
I’m lucky enough to have two homes in HK: my apartment and my dressing room at the New Amsterdam Theater. Oddly enough, I feel equally “at home” in both places. How many people in this world can say they feel at home at the office? I love that it’s my job to inspire and give joy eight times a week with some of the most dynamic and talented people in the world.
Telly Leung took over the lead role of Aladdin on Broadway from original cast member Adam Jacobs in June. He’s also appeared in Glee, Godspell, and Rent, starred opposite George Takei in Allegiance, and performed in the a capella musical In Transit. He was named one of last year’s Out 100 and The Los Angeles Times’ Faces To Watch. He and his longtime partner Jimmy recently got married after a 12-year relationship. They live in Hell’s Kitchen.
Arriba Arriba, 9th Ave - 51st St
Spoonfed, W51st - 8th/9th Ave
Vynl, 9th Ave - 51st St
B Squared, 9th Ave - 46th/47th St
Obao, 9th Ave - 45th/46th St
Joe Allen, W46th St - 8th/9th Ave
Tavola, 9th Ave - 37th/38th St
44 & 1/2, 10th Ave - 44th/45th St
This interview originally appeared in the October 2017 issue of W42ST. Stay in touch with W42ST and be first to read stories like this when you receive our daily newsletter. Join the conversation at w42st.com.