The evening of Thursday, November 17th marked a special evening at the Valley Performing Arts Center in Northridge, Calif. The 2016 Tony Award winner for Best Actor in a Musical, the Queens-born Leslie Odom, Jr., who recently moved back to Southern California with his expectant wife, Nicolette Robinson, performed a compelling solo jazz set with his five-man band.
The 35-year-old star — who made his Broadway debut in 1998 with Rent, and completely revolutionized the musical-theatre scene this past year as the notorious Aaron Burr in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton — effortlessly sang a compendium of songs from his two well-received individual jazz albums — one eponymous (Leslie Odom, Jr.) and the other, Simply Christmas, a winsome take on holiday melodies. The latter is currently No. 1 on the iTunes Jazz Albums chart, and the former is No. 4 on the Billboard Jazz Albums chart. This is in addition to the fact that the Hamilton cast album continues to impressively rank in the top 10 of the Billboard 200, having recently just received double-platinum certification honors.
Playing to a capacity audience of nearly 1,700 screaming and hollering fans, Odom, Jr. could do no wrong for his throng of admirers who likely rivalled, if not exceeded, most pop concerts in their enthusiasm. And while most were there to see him perform Hamilton tracks, Odom, Jr. also managed to win them over with his renditions of “Look for the Silver Lining” (Sally), “Joey, Joey, Joey” (Most Happy Fella), “Autumn Leaves” (Joseph Kosma and Johnny Mercer), and “I Know That You Know” (as well as “The Christmas Song”) by one of his professional muses, Nat King Cole.
The most outstanding non-Hamilton performances, though, included Odom, Jr.’s heart-piercing interpretation of “Without You” from his personal Hamilton growing up — Rent — and a rollicking version of “The Guilty Ones ” (Spring Awakening), featuring adrenaline-pumping solos by band members Michael O. Mitchell (piano), Orlando le Fleming (bass), John Davis (drums), Steven Alker (guitar) and Senfu Stoney (conga drums).
Suffice it to say, from the moment Odom, Jr. opened his 80-minute set, it was apparent that not even notwithstanding the adulation he has received for being in Broadway’s biggest show of perhaps all-time, his success also stands prominently on its own merits by sheer virtue of his unmistakable vocal talent.
The star’s tenor voice has a wonderfully pleasant lilt to it, as it varies in tone, pitch, and poignancy, bringing the listener along a journey of musical fervency. There are various dimensions to his soulful sound, which can rise awe-strikingly along the musical scale – all the while sounding ever more clear – and then drop down to a booming resonance before embarking again on what is undoubtedly a thrilling aural rollercoaster.
Moreover, the Carnegie Mellon University graduate, who is also known for his work in popular TV dramas — including Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Person of Interest, and especially Smash – also exhibited a charismatic, but calm, stage presence, ensuring that the electric crowd reached a crescendo at the same time he started singing the first Hamilton song of the evening, “Dear Theodosia.” When Odom, Jr. followed with “Wait for It” (even singing his own echoes) and “The Room Where It Happens” (showing off incredible breath-control), the frenzied audience was in a state of blissful surrealism, particularly those who never got to witness the original cast perform the hit show at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.
Yet, as Odom, Jr. admitted to the audience, he would not have gotten the part of Aaron Burr if not for his unremitting insistence and drive. It was upon hearing there would be a Hamilton “mixtape” reading in summer 2013 at Vassar College’s 100-seat Powerhouse Theater that the actor/singer tweeted Miranda if he could attend to which the creator of Hamilton and In the Heights offered no special considerations. Nevertheless, Odom, Jr. “melted into a puddle on the floor” given how ebullient he was about what he saw from actor Utkarsh Ambudkar, who developed the role of Burr, before permanently winning over director Thomas Kail and Miranda.
Flash forward over three years later, on the heels of a successful Hamilton run and his last solo concert for a while — topping it off by singing a sweet number by independent artist Katie Boeck in a duet with his wife – Odom, Jr. is appropriately confident in his next few career decisions, one of which involves starring alongside Johnny Depp and Michelle Pfeiffer in Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express, due out in November 2017.
For more information about upcoming events at the Valley Performing Arts Center, please visit valleyperformingartscenter.org
and for more information about Leslie Odom, Jr., please visit leslieodomjr.com