- OnStage New Jersey Columnist
When you walk into the theatre, the stage is gorgeously bathed in a violet light, the seats are soft and comfy, and there are great sight lines of the stage from every seat. Which theatre am I at this evening? Actually, this is The Music Box Theatre in the Borgata in Atlantic City, New Jersey. I was privileged to be in the audience for one of Leslie Odom Jr.’s first solo concerts promoting his self-titled debut album.
Leslie opened his show with a few of his songs from his album “Leslie Odom Jr.” (iTunes $9.99). The first impression of his band is just silky smooth, like his voice. Tonight he opened up with “Autumn Leaves”, the third track from his album, and just set a beautiful tone for the evening. Following that, he sang the beautiful song “Look for the Silver Lining”. This upbeat song truly does represent Leslie’s outlook at life. If you don’t know Leslie Odom Jr. from that “small” Broadway hit Hamilton that earned him the 2016 Tony Award for Best Actor, then you should get to know him.
Leslie was born in New York and raised in Philadelphia. He was in the same class at Carnegie Mellon University with a few people you might know: Josh Groban (debuting this fall in Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812), Josh Gad (Book of Mormon, Disney’s Frozen), Rory O’Malley (Hamilton), and he was at school the same time as Megan Hilty (Noises Off), Billy Porter (Kinky Boots), and Renee Elise Goldsberry (Hamilton) were there. Can you imagine having been there at the same time seeing all these phenomenal talents together? If you want to hear stories, check out Leslie’s Playbill Vlogs. They are by far hysterical (PG for language) and insightful of how supportive, loving, and caring they are of each other.
The third number was his beautiful samba Spanish track, “Brazil (Aquarela Do Brasil)”. I heard from people around me that they wished they could dance to it and I found myself asking why I took French in school and not Spanish because I wish I understood it when I first heard it rather thank looking up the translation. Following that song, Leslie introduced his next song by telling the audience that so many people asked him “Why would you leave the hit Hamilton?” He asks the question “Well why would you leave your job?” before giving his response with the song “Joey, Joey, Joey”. The chorus of the song is:
“Joey, Joey, Joey,
Joey, Joey, Joe
You’ve been too long
In one place
It’s time to go
Time to go, oh”
The song perfectly sums up Leslie’s attitude towards his work. He is always striving to improve himself, learn something new, and take a chance. Now I know you are reading this and asking, “Does Leslie sing anything from Hamilton?” Well, of course he does.
After “Joey, Joey, Joey”, Leslie talks a bit about Hamilton, the creative process, and his love of the show and Lin Miranda. He then goes into a couple of his signature songs from Hamilton. I was fortunate enough to see Leslie in Hamilton before he left and I can tell you that he delivered those songs with the same fire and passion as he did on stage, although the arrangements were built around his jazz sound. But following the Hamilton songs, Leslie then goes back to his first big break, replacing Tituss Burgess (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) in Jersey Boys. Leslie then explained his role in the production and love of that style of music. He then sings this amazing medley of Jersey Boys songs.
Following his Broadway set, he said something that I think anyone who knows his voice was thinking. Leslie said that when he started to create this album, he wanted it to be “something Nat King Cole or Sammy Davis Jr. would have made right now.” The medley of songs he then sings, like the Jersey Boys medley, just take you back in time. They are what our parents or grandparents (depending on your age) listen to and would sing in the car. His soulful sound just bring you back to those days of simpler times, or how you enjoyed hearing a parent or grandparent singing these songs as it did for me.
After the medley, Leslie comes back around to the album to close the show and features the amazing band and has a song where his wife, Nicolette Robinson sings the vocal backups to him. Following the concert, his encore, tonight was a crowd-pleasing song from Hamilton. You know, the one that is a love letter to Aaron Burr’s beloved at the time.
Leslie’s concert was absolutely wonderful. It was a night of unbelievable music, a marvelous band, and fascinating insight into Leslie as a person and performer. As he said during the show, this is still a very new and fluid process. He is just getting started and this concert wasn’t even his tenth yet. I hope that when you go out and get tickets to see him that he gives you more of his Broadway songs, and a few more of those good old fashioned crooner songs.
So why didn’t I just give you a set list? Because they are all going to change up and I want you to go out there and buy his CD and learn more about him and his story. After his concert, he came out and met with everyone who wanted to meet with him, and it was pretty much like the Hamilton stage door. Leslie signed Hamilton Playbills, “Hamilton: The Book”, his CD, and took pictures. He took time with his fans and took in their thoughts on his show and spent time with younger members of the audience. I know because there were a few of my students in attendance that evening. Leslie connects with people through his story, his music and voice, and in the person he is. You could see how much he appreciated the younger crowd he had there and that he was inspiring the next generation of musical theatre actors and singers. He was also exposing them (and the entire audience) to more than musical theatre and that is something everyone can appreciate.
A special thank you to Brian Brennan, PR Manager (Borgata) and the Borgata for bringing Leslie Odom Jr. in. There are a lot of Broadway performers who come down to Atlantic City to perform, but the Borgata’s Music Box is by far, my favorite venue. It is state of the art, beautiful to be in, and is just such an intimate venue for performances like this. I hope that there are more Broadway performers who choose this venue to perform because there are so many Broadway fans, young and old, who would love to attend and hopefully meet these brilliant artists and be inspired.
So in summary, you have to buy Leslie’s CD, find out the closest place he is performing near you, and go get your tickets right now. If he can stay and chat with you, take the time and stay, you’ll come on here and thank me later.