By Shari Lifland (@shariontheaisle)
Broadway performer Telly Leung, most recently seen in the a cappella musical In Transit at the Circle in the Square theatre, brought his polished, personal, and upbeat style to the beautiful new Green Room 42 on April 23 with his solo cabaret show. Backed up by a tight, 4-piece band (Jim Donica on bass, Brian Koonin on guitar, Michael Croiter on drums, and music director Gary Adler on piano) Leung, personable and confidently at ease with his audience, announced at the top of the show that “I’m going to embarrass Jimmy” (his partner of 12 years and husband of 4 months). Indeed, the set list, a mix of Broadway tunes and pop ballads, was in many ways was a joyful love letter to his new spouse, with musical selections relating to their first meeting, marriage, and ongoing commitment.
Appropriately, Leung opened with his exuberant, up tempo version of the Rodgers & Hammerstein classic “Hello Young Lovers.” Then, before moving on to a jazzy take on Stevie Wonder’s “Knocks Me Off My Feet” (an ode to his feelings after his first date with Jimmy), he shared a story about how they met—which involved the now defunct website Friendster and a visit to a Vegas psychic. And because Jimmy is “such a big Kander and Ebb fan,” Leung delivered a touching, from-the-heart mashup of “Married” (from Cabaret) and “We Can Make It” (from The Rink). However, he dedicated John Denver’s pop tune “Leaving on a Jet Plane” to Ben and Stefan, two flight attendant fans in the audience who changed their flight schedules so they could catch Leung’s show.
Two musical highlights of the evening were Leung’s powerful version of the disco anthem “I Will Survive” and a love song from In Transit, “We Are Home.” That tune is especially meaningful to Leung, because the relationship between his character in the show (Steven) and Justin Guarini’s character Trent, was based on Leung’s real-life relationship with Jimmy. “We Are Home” also gave Leung an opportunity to show off his well-honed musician’s chops, as he ably accompanied himself on the piano.
Overall, the evening was a joyous, optimistic ode to love, with song choices that also included Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now” (“Nothing but blue skies from now on”) and wrapping up with Leung’s encore, Stephen Sondheim’s life- and love-affirming “Being Alive.”
At one point, Leung asked the audience, “Is it a cliché for a cabaret singer to talk about love?” Perhaps, but given our country’s current, discordant political atmosphere, a little love may just be what we need.