"Hamilton" star Leslie Odom Jr. shows off diverse vocal talents

by Ileana Sung | 4/24/18 2:30am

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Source: Courtesy of Christopher Boudewyns

Leslie Odom Jr. left the Broadway phenomenon “Hamilton” more than a year ago, but his Saturday night performance at the Hopkins Center for the Arts proved that there is far more to the Tony-winning actor than his portrayal of Aaron Burr.

The concert was one of the most anticipated events of the Hopkins Center’s spring season, and students gathered outside a filled Spaulding Auditorium in the hopes of listening through the doors. Odom’s spectacular performance justified their efforts. After delivering a repertoire ranging from jazz to Broadway hits, an enthusiastic audience brought Odom back to the stage for an encore.

The playbill did not provide a program, and this element of surprise kept the audience captivated. “Hamilton” numbers naturally brought the most excitement, especially given the array of “Hamilton” t-shirts and hoodies among the crowd. Odom played up the suspense, teasing that he would “save that for later.”The jazz numbers exhibited Odom’s warm, smooth tenor voice. Singing with an expressive, soulful tone, Odom seemed confident and comfortable in this musical genre.

The New York native was in full showman mode between songs. Beginning by mentioning his starring role in Hamilton two years ago, he also touched on his experience spanning more than ten years as a professional actor. Hamilton had been a nurturing experience, he said, that gave him the opportunity to take his music around the country.

Noting the crowd’s love for “Hamilton,” Odom said that when he was an up-and-coming actor, “Rent” was his “Hamilton”-esque Broadway phenomenon. Odom’s first Broadway audition was for a role in “Rent” at age 16. Three months after the audition, Odom said, he was on stage in the production of the musical.

The story was a natural segue to “Without You,” a beautiful number from “Rent.” The emotional song was decidedly one of the best pieces of the evening. Accompanied by minimal instruments and a simple beat, Odom’s voice and soul reached their peak as the song progressed. The song remained alive even after Odom’s voice had faded, with several audience members humming it as they left the concert.

He also sang “Winter Song,” a piece that was included in his album “Simply Christmas,” along with “Autumn Leaves,” “Mona Lisa,” “I Know That You Know” and others. “I Know That You Know,” featured on Odom’s self-titled album, was a close second after “Without You,” and went perfectly with Odom’s voice, which was accented by a trilling piano and light drumbeats. The best moment of the concert happened later on during “I Know That You Know” as Odom held the high notes.

Teasing the audience all the way, Odom sang three Hamilton numbers throughout the performance — “Wait For It,” “Dear Theodosia” and “The Room Where It Happens.” The songs were met immediately with a wild reaction from the crowd. “The Room Where It Happens” was the last piece of the evening and the most explosive performance. Odom made use of the whole stage, walking to the far left and right while singing, and in the end brought the whole crowd to their feet. Intended to be the climax of the performance, “The Room Where It Happens” didn’t quite do Odom’s voice justice. Although Odom sang with undeniable power and energy, it was the previous numbers, “Without You” and “I Know that You Know,” that remained the true winners, showing the capacity of Odom’s voice to its fullest.Every piece was accompanied by a talented and passionate band that livened up the atmosphere of the auditorium. Conscious of the way he could dominate the stage, Odom stepped back in the middle of each number to give his band members time to solo. The group’s “countless dateless Saturday nights practicing,” as Odom described, were apparent in their impeccable performance. The audience on the right wing of Spaulding was especially taken away by pianist Michael O. Mitchell’s joyous and passionate expressions and trills on the piano.

Odom’s performance seemed to end too quickly, leaving the audience yearning for more even after the encore. His rich voice held the crowd in a trance right until the last minute, and the songs resonated as audience members walked out humming.