After 'Hamilton,' Leslie Odom Jr. remains driven by growth

Life has not yet returned to normal for actor and musician Leslie Odom Jr. That's not completely surprising after performing what he considers a role of a lifetime — Aaron Burr in the celebrated musical "Hamilton" — and winning Tony and Grammy awards for it to boot.

"People's interest, I'm sure, in the show will wane eventually, but I haven't found that quite yet," Odom said recently on the phone from New York City, where he lives. "I'm sure it will happen, and that's OK, too. Truly, that's OK."


Like "Hamilton's" creator and other star, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Odom left the production in July, but still feels close to the cast and crew. He mentioned he was excited to attend a Beyonce concert with some of the actors later that night.

But Odom, who performs at the Modell Lyric on Saturday as a part of a benefit for the Journey Home and its battle against homelessness, now must navigate the tricky waters of a star turn's aftermath.


Namely, what comes next?

"I just don't want to take steps backward in my growth," he said. "After all of the things I learned in 'Hamilton,' after all of the places I've been, I don't want to go anywhere that's going to force me to leave all of that behind. … I'm just walking toward roles and projects where I'm going to learn."

"Hamilton," which centers on the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton and set a Tony Awards record for 16 nominations this year, has catapulted the 35-year-old actor to the top of many casting directors' wish lists. It took plenty of turns to get to this point.

Raised in Philadelphia, Odom made his Broadway debut as a teenager in "Rent." He later performed in productions like "Leap of Faith" and "Venice," but before "Hamilton," Odom was most known for his role as Sam Strickland on the NBC musical series "Smash."

What's next for Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr., Philippa Soo, Renee Elise Goldsberry, David Diggs and the other stars of the hit musical

His next role will likely take him to London for the rest of the year for a movie — he avoided specifics because plans hadn't been finalized.

In the meantime, he's focused on his other career as a singer. In June, his self-titled, debut album — featuring covers of show tunes like "Look for the Silver Lining" and standards like Ary Barroso's "Brazil" — reached No. 1 on Billboard's jazz albums chart. (Odom will perform songs from the album, as well as from "Hamilton," on Saturday.)

Odom said he chose songs for the album that deeply resonated with him, including the blues standard "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out" — a song he remembers hearing at 13.

"When I listened back to [my] demo of it, it felt like it was colored with a certain amount of knowledge of experience that I never had before, because I was in the middle of this phenomenon," Odom said in reference to "Hamilton." "I remember so clearly what it was like at the bottom. I remember so clearly what it was like when the phone wasn't ringing. … I felt like I could do it with some authority, now having seen the other side of the coin."

His first project after "Hamilton" is "Simply Christmas," an album of holiday standards due Nov. 11. The album was "the hardest that I've ever pushed myself in the studio," he said.

When he was asked to dress the actor for a Broadway show a year ago, designer David Hart had no idea who Leslie Odom Jr. or what "Hamilton" was.

"When you're singing a song like 'The Christmas Song' or 'Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,' that thing is under a microscope," Odom said. "The way I was critiquing those vocals — I was brutal on myself. It had to be honest. It had to be sincere."

The future, beyond the likely London film shoot, is open for Odom. Regardless of his next roles, Odom said he will use the life-altering experience of "Hamilton" as a professional and creative guide. As a black actor, he won't entertain roles that feel one-note, especially given the richness of "Hamilton's" characters.

"With black performers, we're often called to stop the show and it stops there. We're going to sort of trot you out and have you sing the highest note you can sing or have you dance until you have smoke coming out of your shoes," he said. "But when you talk about … the full spectrum of emotions that we were allowed to bring to the stage of 'Hamilton,' I hope once and for all, at least for a generation, people will be able to go, 'Look at what we saw in 'Hamilton.' We know this thing is possible.'"


Odom doesn't expect every project to have the success of "Hamilton," but he wants to feel that same full connection to each role for the simple reason that he doesn't have time for anything less. He points to fellow "Hamilton" actors who didn't put their children to bed for a year straight because of the show's schedule.

"It's the same amount of time if you're working on 'Hamilton' or you're working on nonsense," Odom said. "So if you're going to pull away from your family in that way, it has to be worth it. That's all I'm telling myself: It has to be worth it."

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