HO HO WHO: Broadway star and former Glee Warbler Telly Leung, bravely covering Mariah Carey’s 1994 holiday masterpiece. Leung made his Great White Way debut as “man with a squeegee” in the ensemble of Rent, and spent the past 16 years climbing the ladder to leading man status. He still looks about 16, which is why he got to play a school kid on Glee. When he’s not recording holiday tunes, you can find Leung seducing Jasmine each night in the Broadway production of Aladdin.
A WHOLE NEW WORLD: The trick for artists covering “All I Want for Christmas is You” (and so many other holiday favorites with definitive recordings) is doing something different while staying firmly in your own wheelhouse. Lynne Shankel, who served as orchestrator and music director for the musical Allegiance (which starred Leung and George Takei!), wrote this arrangement that allows Leung to turn a jingling pop standard into a showtune.
SO BRIGHTLY, BABY: The song begins delicately, with Leung crooning over simple piano chords that are a brilliant variation on the tinkly scale you hear at the beginning of Carey’s original. (Trust me, I wrote my master’s thesis on contemporary musicology.) Shankel mixes up the rhythm too, so Leung’s vocal line is gently syncopated. The effect makes it seem that he’s singing to someone instead of about someone. Imagine Leung on one corner of a stage, slowly walking towards another guy who’s about to get a Christmas present he never expected and can’t refuse. It’s a declaration of love you hear late in Act II. More instruments slowly join in from the pit: percussion, organ, electric guitar. Leung’s voice climbs higher, eventually soaring into falsetto because hell-OOOO Mariah melismas. Then in reverse the orchestra slows down and peters out. Leung leaves us with lingering fermata and a beautiful first (stage) kiss. Half the audience is in tears.
CHEER FACTOR: 9/10. But wait? The proceeds go to charity? Yes! Let’s go 10/10, because Leung probably has a lot less dough than artists featured in The Sleigher this year, but he’s no Scrooge. Download “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” and you’ll be helping to fund after-school theater workshops and summer camps for kids in need. Go ahead and make their wish come true.