Leslie Odom Jr. spent a year of his life being welcomed six times a week by more than 1,300 euphoric theatergoers in his role as Aaron Burr opposite Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Alexander Hamilton in the Broadway musical that has rocked the world.
On June 24, the former “Hamilton” star will perform in front of a crowd less than a fourth that size, in an intimate setting far removed from the skyline of New York City — the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina on Hilton Head Island.
Odom won the 2016 Tony Award for best actor in a musical, made his Broadway debut in “Rent” at 17, performed for President Barack Obama at the White House and countless other politicians and celebrities, has appeared in several hit TV shows, and starred in the hottest show ever to hit the Great White Way — “Hamilton.”
“You have to really be brave enough and courageous enough to look right into the people’s eyes and connect with them,” said Odom, 35. “You have to be willing to be vulnerable. It’s a scary thing for a performer.” There’s an exhilaration, he says, of performing without a script, of remaining spontaneous.
“It’s my favorite kind of thing, performing cabaret and small venues,” Odom said. “As a matter of fact, one of the linchpins of my performances on Broadway was to treat the Richard Rodgers Theatre like a small club. I wanted the audience to feel like they were in a living room series, not some big Broadway house where they didn’t have access to the performers.
“As the narrator of the show, I tried to bring it in, to close the walls instead of making it seem like an arena or an opera house. It really is about that connection, you know, about not looking over peoples’ heads, not looking past people or through them. That’s what I love about a theater the size of the Arts Center.”
Odom was already a success, with a lengthy resume that included “Rent” and “Leap of Faith” on Broadway and a starring role in the hit NBC musical drama “Smash.”
Now, post-“Hamilton,” he’s among the most recognized theatrical names in the world and will soon be on the silver screen as well, playing Dr. Arbuthnot in “Murder on the Orient Express.” Releasing later this year, the film also will star Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfieffer, Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench and Kenneth Branagh, who is also the director.
Though his music is smooth, soulful jazz, Odom’s appreciation for Miranda’s “Hamilton” is evident in the set lists he’s developed for his concert appearances. There will be songs from his self-titled jazz album and maybe a song from “Smash.” But he also knows audiences want to hear material he sang as Burr in “Hamilton” — and he intends to deliver.
Odom, whose wife, actress Nicolette Robinson, gave birth to the couple’s first child, Lucille Ruby Odom, on April 23, is realistic enough to know that something the magnitude of “Hamilton” might never come along again. He’s grateful he was mature and experienced enough to savor the phenomenon as it happened.
Most of the rest of us aren’t as lucky; “Hamilton,” even without its original stars, remains an impossibly hard-to-get (and expensive) ticket.
But, a fortunate few on Hilton Head Island won’t have to wait that long to hear Odom when he and his band perform live at the Arts Center on June 24. And all without a flight to New York City.
The “Very Tony” Gala also will include an open bar and heavy hors d’oeuvres from Celebration Catering & Events as well as a brief live auction before the performance.
Tickets for the gala begin at $175 and may be obtained by calling 843-686-3945, ext. 100. Proceeds of the evening will benefit the Arts Center’s outreach and educational programming.
Andrea Gannon is the vice president of marketing at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina.