Star of the Week: Leslie Odom Jr. is an inimitable and original talent

 

History has its eyes on Leslie Odom Jr.

Although the newly-minted Tony winner is leaving Hamilton along with his castmates Lin-Manuel Miranda and Phillipa Soo on July 9, he has successfully made an indelible mark on the theatre world and beyond as Aaron Burr (sir).

In the story of America, Aaron Burr has long been viewed as a villain. He shot and killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel, prematurely ending the life of the United States’ first Secretary of the Treasury and the man responsible for writing most of the Federalist Papers. Burr couldn’t possibly be a good guy, right?

Odom’s performance says otherwise. His performance as the politician showed America a previously unseen side to Burr. His portrayal shows a man who deeply loved his wife and daughter, who became understandably envious as he watched Hamilton achieve a level of success Burr would never have, and who finally had it after Hamilton endorsed his rival Thomas Jefferson over Burr for the U.S. presidency. This is a man who felt a deep sense of regret after the fateful day that left Hamilton dead. To be sure, he wasn’t a perfect man – as the musical emphasizes, he was notorious for flip-flopping on important issues – but Odom humanizes and brings dimension to these traits.

As Playbill recently noted in an article detailing why Odom, Miranda, and Soo will go down in history, Odom’s performance is filled with brilliant nuances and deliberate choices that make Burr an empathetic character by the time he finds himself a murderer. When he reacts to the news that he will not be president of the United States as a result of Hamilton’s decision, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that Odom deserved every bit of his Best Actor Tony Award.

Although Aaron Burr will likely be the role that Odom is best remembered for throughout his career, he is far from being a one-trick pony.

A native of Philadelphia, a city that was instrumental in the very revolution in which he takes part eight times a week, Odom graduated with honors from the esteemed drama school at Carnegie Mellon. Before doing so, he had already made his Broadway debut as Paul in Rent.

After his college graduation in 2003, Odom moved to Los Angeles, where he resided for years. He remained heavily involved in theatre in addition to taking on various television roles. He returned to Broadway in 2012 when Leap of Faith, a show that he originally did in LA, transferred to Broadway. Unfortunately, the show closed after 20 performances. He continued performing in off-Broadway shows and workshops, and in 2014, he performed alongside Lin-Manuel Miranda in the Encores! Production of Tick, Tick… Boom!

Odom also maintained a steady presence on television, most notably as Sam Strickland on the show that was beloved by all theatre fans, Smash. Before he was Aaron Burr, he was playing Christian Borle’s boyfriend and showing off his impressive dance skills on NBC.

The year before he began performing in Hamilton, Odom also dropped his own self-titled debut album, which consisted of his own personal jazzy take on beloved songs. His smooth and buttery vocals merited the album with rave reviews. He is slated to perform selections from his album, as well as some surprises songs with special guests, at The McKittrick Hotel on July 14, 21, and 28 at 11pm.

Although he seems to have an appreciation for a wide variety of art forms – he even wrote and performed an original song with Hamilton costar Daveed Diggs to open ESPN’s Upfront earlier this year – Odom seems to have a special place in his heart for theatre.

Odom may be leaving Hamilton, but the role that made him a household name is in good hands. Along with the shocking and upsetting news of Shuffle Along’s premature untimely closing comes the fantastic news that Brandon Victor Dixon will take over as Burr in mid-August. On July 7, Odom posted on his Instagram about “passing the baton” to Dixon and his complete confidence in the casting decision.

What’s next for Odom? It’s not clear yet, but whatever his next project may be, he’ll be sure to go after it with his whole heart and soul as always. We’ll just have to wait for it.

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About Brooke R.

"Don't wait for people to tell you who you are. Show them." - Laura Benanti

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