So I am sure NO ONE reading this blog is familiar with a certain modern-day Broadway smash hit about America’s first Treasury Secretary. No? The musical that incorporated hip-hop with American history and made it 100% socially relevant to today’s vast and eclectic audiences? Not familiar? Lin-Manuel Miranda’s gem of cutting edge musical theatre? Too many names- who is that guy!? How about one word – HAMILTON! Still not ringing a sweet bell of freedom? Yeah… I’m sure you haven’t heard of it at ALL! Who likes Broadway anymore anyway? It’s so overrated right? HA! I hope it hasn’t been so long since reading my blogs dear readers that you forgot that I am HUGE into the sarcasm. 😉
In any case guys, I am not just here to hype on the acclaim of Hamilton (available for order at your local LVCCLD library as well as numerous other CDs and books related to the musical and the real historic figure). I am actually here to emphasize the immense talent of one the shows original members that has catapulted to superstardom in the wake of this phenomenal Broadway hit. I am of course talking about none other than the great Leslie Odom Jr.
Turns out, Mr. Odom is a New York native born in Queens but later relocated to Philadelphia with his family. Leslie went on to graduate the prestigious Carnegie Mellon University with honors. With music and theatre always coursing through his body and soul, Leslie got a shot to break out on Broadway at the young age of 17 taking on a starring role in the super smash hit Rent playing the character Paul. With his ever growing success as a performer, Hollywood was not far behind at picking up on LOJ’s captivating acting, dancing and singing skills. Prior to Hamilton, you might have even spotted Leslie on TV shows like CSI: Miami, Smash and Law & Order: Special Victim’s Unit just to name a few. He also had a role in the movie “Red Tails”. Of course there is one main “prize” as it were, that Leslie got while trying to really make it in Hollywood. While living in L.A. he got to be assistant director to a local theatre’s revival cast of Once on This Island. There Leslie saw the gorgeous and also multi-talented actress Nicolette Robinson audition for a role… which she did not get… at first. Due to a re-casting snafu during rehearsals, Nicolette got a call back role and it was Odom’s job to get Nicolette up to speed with the production. I’ll just finish this charming bit of facts by saying that by the end of the production, Leslie and Nicolette were officially dating and by 2012, had officially married.
Odom still played on and off Broadway within those years and even got to star in the off-Broadway revival cast of Tick, Tick…Boom! which was a musical written by the same creator of Rent, Jonathan Larson. While performing in Larson’s re-discovered classic, Leslie worked alongside a fellow thespian by the name of… You guessed it: Lin-Manuel Miranda. Miranda playing the star of the show while Leslie was a part of the supporting cast. Shucks! Second fiddle yet again. 😉 However, Lin clearly took into account Leslie’s amazing acting and singing talents when just a short time later, he invited Leslie to attend a stage reading for a new project he was working on. A little something Lin was piecing together off and on for years and finally was trying to bring it to the stage. That’s right folks, a musical about America’s first Treasury Secretary. Leslie had the same exact response as many of us had at first: “Uh… How can a story like this possibly make it to any stage, especially Broadway!?” Yet once the stage reading was over, like all of us, Leslie was hooked. He congratulated Lin on the amazing work and basically told him, if you ever get it to the stage, let me know so I can buy tickets. Miranda immediately responded with “Actually… I was hoping you could play Aaron Burr.” Burr being the main character of the whole show next to Alexander Hamilton himself. Who could pass up on an offer like that? And so of course dear readers, as they say, the rest is history (if you’ll pardon the pun;)
It is also so funny to know that during performances (both in Tick, Tick… Boom! and Hamilton) Miranda would consistently arrive hours early to rehearse and prepare while Odom would notoriously arrive and get into wardrobe and sound check within minutes of the show’s opening. Yet… And I feel so bad saying this; While Hamilton went on to become Broadway’s “golden child” of the new millennium and was nominated for a record-breaking 16 Tony awards in 2016, all brought about by Lin’s determination to bring his small idea into reality… It was none other than Mr. LOJ who won the Tony for Best Leading Actor in a Musical whilst nominated against the very creator of the show himself. But! In any case, it is still a team effort in the end, right guys??? J
Now! Back to the good stuff. The thick meaty substance which is the whole reason I am writing today. While Leslie was maintaining gratitude and support for his acclaimed co-cast and crew of “Hamilton”, he still yearend to break off the Broadway stage and head right into the recording studio. It was time to start working with some just as talented musician friends of his and record what Leslie considers “the album that Nat King Cole would make today”. What was his genre of choice fellas? Jazz! Who would have thought!? Well, Leslie did. And indeed, once Leslie officially left Hamilton in 2016 after over a year of performing non-stop as Aaron Burr (get it Hamilton fans?… non-stop! hehe), Leslie Odom Jr became… Leslie Odom Jr, recording his premier eponymous solo album.
Filled with a collection of remade songs that had originally spanned all across the 20th Century, Leslie Odom Jr almost immediately went #1 on the Jazz charts in iTunes. I would like to add that Nat King Cole would not be rolling over in his grave if he ever got to hear these amazing tracks, he would be shaking and moving like it was nobody’s business. Maybe that’s too creepy a picture. I apologize readers. Let’s just say, these songs on the album are quite simply remastered to perfection. Yes, most of these songs were originally recorded years upon years ago, however once you listen to them, you feel as though they were original tracks just created and released today which will fill you with a spirit, the likes of which have not yet been discovered. A revitalized sense of musical beauty as narrated by the smoothest, most astounding voice out there… that better? J My personal favorite off the album is “I Know That You Know’’ Also, in case anyone is like me and requires some music to be in video form, there is a music video for his #1 hit off the album, “Autumn Leaves”.
Moving right along, 2016 has indeed been an incredible year for Leslie. There are the Tonys for Hamilton, the solo album and all its success. Leslie is actually working right now on a new upcoming film directed by Kenneth Branagh. It is a remake of an Agatha Christie classic, Murder on the Orient Express. I absolutely can NOT wait to see it once it is released next year. Despite movie commitments and a newly released solo album, Odom again dominated in the recording studio to provide his profound crooning to release two separate singles this year. He collaborated with acclaimed songwriter Sara Bareilles to record a strong political satire track “Seriously” covering the hypothetical inner thoughts of President Barack Obama during this recent Presidential election. Leslie also recorded a single with fellow Hamilton star Daveed Diggs. Together they made a phenomenal cover of (believe it or not) “Good for You” which is a Selena Gomez track. The two performers add in a dominant blend of Odom’s smooth R&B roots mixed with Digg’s amazing hip\hop flow and is then fused by an ever so funky rock orchestration at the end. It is most impressive to say the least.
Also, somehow in the wake of Leslie’s debut album, he still managed to fit in yet another musical accomplishment this year. He just released another album, Simply Christmas which again features remade versions of some of the absolute best holiday season classics ever created: “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”, “Winter Song” and “My Favorite Things” are just several of the tracks, though I stand by the belief that each and every song is so incredibly well done. I can NOT believe such music could be made so artistically and more so, so naturally by sheer talent through singing and musicianship, as most music nowadays is strongly created by technology in some way.
To finish up dear readers, there is definitely one more impactful bit of good news Odom has been gifted this year. That would be the news that he and Nicolette will soon be expecting their first child! Who could ask for anything more? Congratulations Leslie and Nicolette!!!
OK dear readers. I am sure this was quite a lot of content for you all to take in. I’ll give your poor eyes a break… for now. 😉 I hope that you have enjoyed this little ole blog of mine and I thank you so much as always for your time and support. Hopefully you soon try and check out some of these featured albums and recordings. I guarantee that you will not be disappointed. Until next time you wonderful guys and dolls… stay classy… stay listening… stay creative!
HAPPY 2017 TO YOU ALL!!!