A short history of Hamilton star Leslie Odom, Jr. ahead of NJPAC’s Spotlight Gala
by NJPAC/September 29, 2016
A short history of Leslie Odom, Jr. The event is Spotlight Gala 2016. The room where it happens is Prudential Hall.
One of the most interesting of Leslie Odom, Jr.’s actorly tricks is making everyone think they know him personally.
“I get a few messages every single week from people who are just listening now to the Hamilton cast album and say, ‘I love these songs’ and ‘Burr’s my favorite character’ or ‘Burr’s such a jerk.’ I get it all,” says the vlog-friendly Philadelphian (#AskOdomJr), honored with last season’s best musical actor Tony for portraying a founding father’s frenemy. “That’s the new fan mail: Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Social media is a wonderful way to stay connected in the modern day, for sure.”
Those attending the Women’s Association of NJPAC’s 21st annual Spotlight Gala 2016: An Evening of Elegant Soul on October 1 – whether for the performance only or the entire fund-raiser, from soup to soufflé – won’t have a bothersome laptop screen separating themselves from Odom. The self-described crooner, whose velvety voice may be a revelation to fans more familiar with his agile rapping, appears in NJPAC’s Prudential Hall with his friend – The Color Purple’s Tony winner Cynthia Erivo – R&B statesman Kenny Lattimore, and bassist Christian McBride, a five-time GRAMMY holder.
In July, taking final bows with Hamilton creator and title player Lin-Manuel Miranda, Odom parted company with Aaron Burr and his signature anthem, “Wait for It.” Because of Odom’s rapidly growing online visibility, though, enhanced by his eight-part series for Broadway.com, Aaron Burr, Sir: Backstage at Hamilton with Leslie Odom, Jr., thousands of viewers stayed on to follow him out the stage door and into a new direction.
That journey included picking up five musicians to record an eponymous album of 10 jazzy tracks on S-Curve Records, including such gems as “Look for the Silver Lining” and “Autumn Leaves.” The material was finessed during a concert residency at New York’s McKittrick Hotel, with guest vocalists like Josh Groban, who was Odom’s classmate at Carnegie Mellon University, and Ledisi. (There’s also been a hint of a Christmas CD in the works.)
“When we set out to make our record, we said we wanted to make the album that Nat King Cole would make today,” says Odom, before acknowledging that the band would be facing a Jersey crowd in Newark. “Frank Sinatra will make an ‘appearance’ – in the way that he’s influenced me.”
Erivo – who’s cornered by Odom’s camera in episode 2 of Aaron Burr, Sir – is talking with him about doing a duet of Chrisette Michele’s “Love Is You,” a song that holds meaning for both. Odom first heard Erivo sing it at the wedding of Patina Miller (Pippin), and it also was sung at Odom’s wedding to actress Nicolette Robinson (Showtime’s The Affair).
“If you hear it, it sounds like a standard, like a song that should have been written 60 or 70 years ago. It’s a classic,” Odom says.
Expect plenty of classic from the guy who told editors of Vanity Fair’s International Best Dressed List this year that his sartorial style reflects “any well-dressed man in 1959.” He works it on the red carpet, putting designers like David Hart and Dsquared2 in front of the flashbulbs. “My picture’s in Vanity Fair on the same page as Prince Harry,” he offers, sounding amused by all the gaping.
Back from a vacation in Spain, Odom says he and his spouse recently took a couple of weeks to “really unpack this whole experience, to look at how far we’ve come,” alluding to Hamilton by inadvertently quoting one of its lyrics. Years after playing a recurring character on the behind-the-curtain series Smash, he’s returned to sifting through television scripts. As he describes movie pitches and concert bookings, Odom likes to mention with pride his former Hamiltonians and their respective projects.
“With acting, it’s a New York/L.A. profession; you have to live in one of those places,” says Odom, who won a principal soloist GRAMMY for Hamilton’s cast album. “But with music, because you fly out so much, it doesn’t really matter where your home base is. So we’re open to New York not being the home base forever, but it still is for now.”
The tenor has discovered, especially as a member of the gregarious Broadway community, that no matter where he travels, the “home base” goes with him, thanks to the Twitterverse. The home-movie feel of the Aaron Burr, Sir webisodes gave viewers access to the pre- and post-curtain commotion at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, the Tony Awards and other inaccessible corners of Manhattan. Now they’re curious about where Odom is going next – and he’ll be Facebooking live on the first of each month to tell them.
“People are knocking me down with their love,” he enthuses. “I think I said it to Patina, in the middle of her rise, that a Broadway fan really is for life. If somebody has moved you in a theater, if somebody has touched you and given you a live experience that you’ll never forget, you’re a fan for life.
“We have some people who are going to stick by us, support us”—by “us,” he’s referring to the cast of Hamilton – “as we move forward, as we move on from Hamilton. … We all have to move on. And if you can take anything with you, the best thing to take is people’s support. If you can take an audience with you, then you can carry that right into your next project.”
Tickets to the performance portion of An Evening of Elegant Soul are $50 through njpac.org or 1-888-GO-NJPAC. For full Gala tickets (including dinner and dancing) and table sponsorship information, call (973) 353-7043 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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