Telly Leung

December 14, 2018 | By | Add a Comment

When it comes to popular music in general and singing in particular, it might not be the worst of times, but it is far from the best of times. It started back with Star Search, where contestants were encouraged to favor volume and melismatic riffs above phrasing and musicality—and they were rewarded for doing so. To be more blunt, albeit more unkind, screeching replaced singing and riffing replaced naturalism. This “style” grew and morphed through The X Factor, America’s Got Talent, American Idol, and The Voice. For some time now, singers, from all walks, who have never been a contestant on these shows have followed in their unfortunate footsteps. It is most distressing to me when singers who have heretofore developed a personal style of delivery that harkens back to the great cabaret and legit singers of the past succumb to this trend. Which brings us to Telly Leung.

Leung has delighted audiences in a number of Broadway shows, including Godspell, In Transit, and (currently) Aladdin. A year or so ago I saw and was knocked out by his cabaret performance at Feinstein’s/54 Below, so I was looking forward to his recent appearance at Birdland in his new show, Sing Happy. Whether out of a desire to broaden his audience or because he heeded misguided advice, he has decided to put on the cloak of a voice competition contestant, and it does not fit him well. He opened the show with a song I know well—Whitney Houston’s “How Will I Know” (George Merrill, Shannon Rubicam, Narada Michael Walden)—but because of a combination of exaggerated melisma and poor microphone technique that completely covered the lower half of his face, I had such a hard time making out what he was singing I began to wish for subtitles. He followed this with the disco classic “I Will Survive” (Freddie Perren, Dino Fekaris), filled with clichéd riffs like “sur-vi-yive” and “do-oh-oh-or.” His lack of connection to the lyrics was underscored by his continuously smiling throughout the number.

There were a few saving graces in the show that showed off the singer’s undeniable talent and allowed him to simply tell the story of a song, but these were overwhelmed by the flashy “contemporary” surface he returned to again and again. More of his charm peeked through in patter, but even there he undercut it with remarks and stories that added little to the songs they introduced.

His voice is still dazzling and his engaging personality is still there, so I hope that this misstep is just that—a misstep—and will be jettisoned for future shows. Telly Leung is a star. He does not need all the artificial trappings.

Sing Happy
Birdland – November 19

Category: Reviews

About the Author ()

Gerry Geddes has conceived and directed a number of musical revues—including the Bistro- and MAC Award-winning Monday in the Dark with George and Put On Your Saturday Suit – Words & Music by Jimmy Webb—and directed many cabaret artists, including André De Shields, Helen Baldassare, Darius de Haas, and drag artist Julia Van Cartier. He directs The David Drumgold Variety Show, currently in residence at Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, and has produced a number of recordings, including two Bistro-winning CDs. He's taught vocal performance at The New School, NYU, and London's Goldsmith's College and continues to conduct private workshops and master classes. As a writer and critic, he has covered New York's performing arts scene for over 40 years in both local and national publications; his lyrics have been sung by several cabaret and recording artists. Gerry is currently completing a memoir about his life in the city.

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