Dallas — “Seeing four men of color singing together on stage about friendship and brotherhood—to me, that was the revolution.”
That is how Leslie Odom, Jr. described his first experience with what would eventually become the hit Broadway sensation Hamilton, by Lin-Manuel Miranda. When he first saw the work, still in its infancy in 2013 at Vassar College, he had no idea that he would be at the center of the cultural phenomenon as a member of the original Broadway cast.
Now, some two years after his stint as Aaron Burr, Odom, along with his five-piece band Remedy, has crafted an effective musical identity with a clever penchant for jazz interpretation, which they’ve displayed in music halls across the country.
Friday night’s performance of Odom’s collaboration with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra saw the Meyerson Symphony Center nearly sold-out as Hamilton fans flocked to see the Tony and Grammy award-winning entertainer—and interestingly, a few days before the First National Tour of Hamilton hits Dallas. It was a superb performance, characterized by deeply poignant music and Odom’s endearing on-stage charm. There is one more performance, at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, March 31.
Odom astutely kicks off his set with the wildly popular “Wait For It” from the show that made his career. Its high energy serves as a perfect kick off to an evening of artful exploration into jazz, pop, and showtunes.
The show is well-paced, punctuated by intimate moments between Odom and the audience. He delivers thoughtful renditions of contemporary Broadway numbers. The song “Sarah” from The Civil War demanded undivided attention, with a rich and soulful lilt that left the room feeling breathless. He also gave his players amble time to shine with “The Guilty Ones” from the Tony-winning musical Spring Awakening—each instrument takes a turn in the spotlight with dizzying solo improvisations that amount to a very well-received extended jam session.
Odom’s careful treatment of Nat King Cole and the American Songbook is noteworthy as well. With elegance and longing, he colors “I Know That You Know” with a touching shade of blue, then aptly uplifts the mood with a rousing medley of “Mona Lisa,” “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” and “Unforgettable.” He even has fun engaging the crowd in an enjoyable rendition of Cab Calloway’s “Minny the Moocher,” bobbing and jiving from one end of the stage to the other while waving the mic toward the crowd on the iconic “Hi-dee-hi-dee-hi-dee-hi!”
Musically, Odom is alert, expressive, and flexible. His tenor is lyrical and sweet, with a surprising depth at the bottom that gives him versatility and range. With it, he effortlessly weaves in and out of emotive turns with an edge that is Broadway clean and freely gospel-esque. In concerts like these, the mix of orchestra and post-audio reverb can be a difficult balance, but the vocalist manages a good enough blend that fills the space well.
His collaboration with the orchestra, and theirs with him, is noticeably neat under the baton of Jeff Tyzik. Their contribution to the sets offers a shimmering layer of tonality and musicianship that elevates each number. They mindfully set up each half with exciting orchestral pieces—the first is a medley from West Side Story and the second is Mancini’s rousing “Strings on Fire.”
It’s not until the end of show when Odom delivers what many had been waiting for. “We’ve reached the Hamilton portion of the night,” he says as he jokingly teases younger attendees for being bored up to this point. He is a font of charisma as a belts “The Story of Tonight” and closes off with “The Room Where it Happens,” dripping with all the swagger of the role that made his career.
Sending the high-spirited audience home with an encore of “Without You” from “Rent,” which he describes as the Hamilton from his youth, Odom’s concert is a brilliant compilation of covers that energizes, emotes, and engages.