Singer Leslie Odom Jr. was in the room where it happens. The Richard Rodgers Theatre. On Broadway.
That’s where “Hamilton,” the smash musical, happens. That’s where Odom won a Tony Award for portraying Aaron Burr in that show. That’s where the movie version of the phenomenon was filmed.
“Hamilton” the movie will be released in October 2021, it was announced last month.
“We shot it a long time ago, so I’ll be seeing it with fresh eyes like everybody else,” Odom said. “I’m excited to sit with my popcorn and see what other people saw.
“I hear the original cast was fantastic,” he joked, then turned serious.
“My kid has never seen it. So I’m excited to see it with her on opening night.
“That experience was so special to me. These people transformed me and made me the man who I am today.”
Filmmakers captured two full performances, then did additional shooting of close-ups for individual scenes. Thomas Kail, who directed the musical, served in that capacity for the film, as well.
As of late, actor/singer Odom has been concentrating on his musical career. In November, he released his first album of original material, “Mr.,” and he has been on tour this month promoting it. His performance scheduled for Tuesday at the Fine Line in Minneapolis was canceled due to the coronavirus. There’s no word on a rescheduled date.
Odom made his Minneapolis debut at the Super Bowl at U.S. Bank Stadium in 2018. A few weeks later, he performed with the Minnesota Orchestra at Orchestra Hall. His return engagement was going to be at a 650-capacity club.
What kind of career trajectory is that — from massive to medium to mini?
“This feels like the biggest of all of them,” said Odom recently from Los Angeles.
“This is certainly the riskiest move. I put out my first album of all-original music. It’s the first tour I’ve ever embarked on. The very first tour bus. I might have been most nervous for the Super Bowl, but this one is a bigger one, for sure. This was always the goal.”
“Mr.” features the romantic piano ballad “Foggy,” the smooth, Michael Bublé-esque crooning “Stranger Magic,” the falsetto-fueled “Cold,” and a dramatic salute to “Standards.” Odom ups the energy on a playful Broadway-like number (“Hummingbird”), a slice of Ne-Yo-ish contemporary R&B (“U R My Everything”) and a vibrant, Bruno Mars-meets-Cab Calloway-with-Latin-horns tune (“Go Crazy”).
Dealing with ‘scary’ emotions
The album features appearances by Odom’s grandmother (reciting a poem), his preschool daughter (laughing) and his wife (singing a duet and background vocals).
“I wanted as many of the important people to me to be sewn into the tapestry,” Odom said. “If I did this project right, you got to know me a lot better — like him or not.”
After years of having others write the words coming out of his mouth, Odom got to pen his own.
“It was really scary and vulnerable,” he said. “My wife and I have had this discussion for the 12 years we’ve been together.”
Essentially, each handles vulnerability differently. Actress Nicolette Robinson, known for “The Affair” on Showtime and “Waitress” on Broadway, lets her emotions out, often with tears, and then moves on, her husband explains.
Odom said he resists revealing his emotions.
“It was a tense process because it doesn’t always feel that good to be that vulnerable. In the end, this was much scarier than Christmas songs and scarier than jazz standards, which, in and of themselves, were scary enough. This one was the most rewarding by far.”
The most compelling piece on “Mr.” may be “Remember Black,” a commentary on black culture over the years, set to a variety of sounds, from marching band to Broadway.
“We wanted to explore the African-American contribution to American culture by looking at musical genres historically as black people invent these spaces for themselves and express themselves creatively,” Odom said. “And eventually make money in the process.”
On Broadway at 17
Odom, 38, has been writing songs since he was a teenager, but he took a detour to Broadway and Hollywood.
Raised in Philadelphia, he landed on Broadway in “Rent” at age 17. Then, after earning a degree in fine arts from Carnegie Mellon University, he moved to Los Angeles, securing recurring roles in the TV series “CSI: Miami,” “Vanished,” “Smash” and “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.” He returned to Broadway in “Leap of Faith” and then, in 2015, “Hamilton.”
Sam Cooke & ‘Sopranos’
Odom, who had dramatic roles in 2017’s “Murder on the Orient Express” and last year’s “Harriet,” has two films in the works.
“One Night in Miami,” based on a 2013 play, is a fictional account of the 1964 heavyweight boxing match when a young Cassius Clay shockingly knocked out champion Sonny Liston. The principal characters are influential black men — activist Malcolm X, football hero Jim Brown, singer Sam Cooke and Clay — who got together after the fight. Odom portrays Cooke, the voice behind “You Send Me” and “A Change Is Gonna Come.”
“It was Regina King’s directorial feature debut. You could not have a better advocate,” Odom said. “You get all the trust and encouragement from her as a director. She’s an actor whisperer. She’ll come say something in your ear at the right moment when you need it and help you find your way.”
The other movie is “The Many Saints of Newark,” a prequel to HBO’s “The Sopranos” that’s expected in September.
“It’s a really trippy, interesting, fun look at who the characters were 20, 25 years before we meet them on the television series. It’s about the teenage years and about a couple of strange, transformative summers in young Tony’s life,” Odom said. “I can’t say much about my character, but I’ll say James Gandolfini’s son, Michael, plays Tony.
“That television series was more than a television series. It was their ‘Hamilton.’ It was that thing that changed their lives and changed the industry, so they’ve come to this project with a lot of reverence and a lot of expectations.”