Leslie Odom Jr. is a white-hot hyphenate.
To singer-actor-Broadway star-charttopping recording artist-commercial pitchman, it's time to add author. Effective Monday. That's when his book, "Failing Up," is being published. It's the story of his life before and after he became Aaron Burr in the hip-hop musical sensation "Hamilton."
Like fellow Tony-winning hyphenates Kristen Chenoweth, Audra McDonald and Idina Menzel, Odom occasionally performs with orchestras. Before he starts a six-city book tour on Monday, he managed to squeeze in two concerts with the Minnesota Orchestra this weekend.
Saturday's show was splendid, a winning balance of engaging personality and emotive music. But first a little back story on how we ended up with two concerts instead of one.
As Odom explained on Saturday, he got a short-notice gig in November performing at the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show in China (replacing Katy Perry, whose visa was revoked), so he had to postpone his date then with the Minnesota Orchestra. He pointed out that, as a TV spectacle, the VS fashion show is as big internationally as the Super Bowl is in the United States. Of course, he failed to mention that he performed "America the Beautiful" at the Super Bowl in Minneapolis last month.
That's OK. He had plenty to talk about. He was more talkative and personable than most singers who perform with orchestras.
Odom chatted about "Hamilton" and "Rent," his first show on Broadway. He did a little audience survey to see who'd seen '"Hamilton" in New York and then he joked about people who showed up at Orchestra Hall because of his TV commercial for Nationwide Insurance. Or because they were fans of "Law and Order: S.V.U.," on which he appeared.
Odom, 36, has put together a smartly conceived, well-paced show, one that enabled the audience to get to know him as a person and a musician. The material was drawn from "Hamilton," "Rent" and other contemporary Broadway musicals as well as the Great American Songbook, Nat King Cole's repertoire and classic-rock radio. Some of the tunes were featured on Odom's self-titled album, which went to No. 1 on the jazz charts in 2016.
Musically, Odom is a curious mix. At Orchestra Hall, the supple tenor didn't demonstrate a big bravura Broadway voice, which meant at times, especially in the first set, his voice was overwhelmed by the Minnesota Orchestra. But his voice was intimate, alluring and capable of all kinds of emotional turns.
His midrange was especially appealing, particularly on Cole's "Unforgettable" with its gentle strings. On Frank Loesser's orchestra-free "Joey, Joey, Joey"— which Odom said had taken on new meaning since he dropped out of "Hamilton" in 2016 when creator Lin-Manuel Miranda did — he used elongated phrasing and Latin percussion to make it hypnotic.
Odom's tenor was perfect for a breathtaking, a cappella prayer-like treatment of Bob Dylan's "Forever Young." "Hamilton" fans in the house roared for "The Room Where It Happens," even though the orchestra made it difficult to decipher Odom's rapping unless you knew the words. Props to the singer's five-man band, especially exceptional pianist Michael O. Mitchell, who brought serious jazz chops to the program.
There was a noteworthy misstep. "Dear Theodosia" is a duet between Burr and Alexander Hamilton in the musical. At Orchestra Hall, Odom opted to offer only his parts of the song, which diminished its emotional impact. Can you imagine Diana Ross singing only her half of "Endless Love" in concert?
But by the time Odom came out for the encore and gave away three of his new books (as backstage passes) for fans who answered trivia questions, he completely owned the crowd. He then offered an orchestra-less reading of the Roberta Flack hit "Killing Me Softly," which was an apt description of what Odom had done for nearly 90 minutes.