AF­TER ‘HAMIL­TON’

LES­LIE ODOM FINDS IN­SPIR­ING WORDS, BUT STICKS TO MU­SIC

Stamford Advocate (Sunday) - - Sunday Arts & Style - By Frank Rizzo Les­lie Odom and the Hart­ford Sym­phony Or­ches­tra con­cert is Dec. 8 at 7:30 p.m. Tick­ets are $45.50 to $103. In­for­ma­tion: bush­nell.org and 860-987-5900. Free­lance writer Frank Rizzo cov­ers arts in Con­necti­cut and New York.

It was a turn­ing point for Les­lie Odom Jr., the Tony Award-win­ning ac­tor who played Aaron Burr in the orig­i­nal Broad­way pro­duc­tion of “Hamil­ton!”

It was 2011 and though he was get­ting parts here and there in TV, film and on stage, Odom felt his ca­reer had stalled. He was de­pressed, thought about giv­ing up act­ing and was im­mo­bile as he hung out on his couch just wait­ing for the phone to ring with an of­fer for a re­ward­ing role.

Then came ad­vice from a men­tor-teacher that would change his life.

“What did you do on your own be­half to­day?” his friend asked. “Did you do any­thing other than wait?”

That was just the jump-start he needed which started him on a path self-em­pow­er­ment and even­tu­ally, to “Hamil­ton.”

Odom has taken those words of wis­dom he re­ceived — as well as other les­sons in life and ca­reer he learned along the way — and put them in a small-but-sig­nif­i­cant book — per­fect for hol­i­day gift-giv­ing — called “Fail­ing Up: How to Take Risks, Aim Higher and Never Stop Learn­ing.”

But not to worry. Odom, 37, hasn’t given up act­ing and singing to be­come a mo­ti­va­tional speaker — though he would be quite mes­mer­iz­ing if he did, re­call­ing his show­stop­ping num­ber as Aaron Burr from “Hamil­ton,” “The Room Where It Hap­pens.”

Since leav­ing “Hamil­ton” in 2016 af­ter its first year in Broad­way, his singing ca­reer is flour­ish­ing with two al­bums — in­clud­ing a hol­i­day record­ing — and con­certs. He will be per­form­ing with the Hart­ford Sym­phony Or­ches­tra on Dec. 8 at The Bush­nell in Hart­ford, just a few days be­fore the na­tional tour of “Hamil­ton” lands there for a three-week run.

In the con­cert he’ll sing songs from his records, from the TV se­ries “Smash,” where he played Sam Strick­land, from “Rent” which he per­formed on Broad­way when he was 17 — and still in high school — and, of course, his show-stop­pers from “Hamil­ton.”

“Any­body who got to see me in ‘Hamil­ton’ saw me liv­ing my ab­so­lute wildest dream,” he says, “so it takes a sec­ond af­ter your wildest dream comes true to dream a new dream, to fig­ure out what the heck you want to do next. Two years later I feel like I’m ready.”

This in­ter­view took place on Elec­tion Day and he had just fin­ished up vol­un­teer­ing in the Philadel­phia area on be­half of Demo­cratic can­di­dates and “just do­ing my part.”

He says he first be­came en­gaged in civic ac­tion in 2008 “when a young sen­a­tor from Chicago who looked like me ran for pres­i­dent. And ‘Hamil­ton’ cer­tainly had a pro­found ef­fect on me and how I felt about what my re­spon­si­bil­i­ties were as a cit­i­zen.”

Of the de­ci­sion to write “Fail­ing Up,” he says pub­lish­ers ap­proached him to write a book when “Hamil­ton” hit, but he felt it was too early to write a mem­oir, so in­stead he wrote it as if he were giv­ing a com­mence­ment ad­dress, of­fer­ing re­al­is­tic words of ad­vice, hope and in­spi­ra­tion.

But the book, he says, will ap­peal to those of any age who might be ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a tran­si­tion in their lives.

“Ev­ery­one runs into road­blocks at some time in their ca­reers,” he says, “and you have to fig­ure out, why you do what you do? What is it about this thing that you love? Why did you choose it?”

Odom en­cour­ages peo­ple to be “a good stu­dent of the uni­verse and to lis­ten to what it’s telling you. If you lis­ten, there are al­ways new les­sons to be learned and the faster you learn those les­sons the faster you can move on and es­cape from re­peat­ing the same pat­terns.”

Be­sides the “Fail­ing Up” and the con­cert tours, Odom is work­ing on a new record­ing “that keeps me in the same lane of jazz-con­tem­po­rary pop — but this time with all orig­i­nal songs.”

This year he was part of a starry en­sem­ble in Ken­neth Branagh’s film “Mur­der on the Ori­ent Ex­press” and he re­cently com­pleted pro­duc­tion on two other fea­tures: “Only,” star­ring op­po­site Freida Pinto from wri­ter­di­rec­tor Takashi Doscher and an as-yet un­ti­tled fea­ture film di­rec­to­rial de­but from record­ing artist Sia. Odom will also star in the film “Nee­dle in a Times­tack” writ­ten and di­rected by John Ri­d­ley.

He’s also film­ing “Harriet,” about Harriet Tub­man who helped free hun­dreds of slaves from the South af­ter es­cap­ing from slav­ery her­self in 1849. Odom plays abo­li­tion­ist and con­duc­tor of the Un­der­ground Rail­road Wil­liam Still and Cyn­thia Erivo (Tony Award win­ner for “The Color Pur­ple”) plays Tub­man.

Be­sides star­ring in the TV se­ries “One Dol­lar” for CBS Ac­cess, Odom is also do­ing a pi­lot for an ABC com­edy se­ries which Kerry Wash­ing­ton is ex­ec­u­tive pro­duc­ing. In it Odom plays a pas­tor at a young, hip, di­verse church in Los An­ge­les.

Though he left “Hamil­ton” two years ago it’s still in his heart and says he will be cheer­ing when the cre­ative team re­ceives the Kennedy Cen­ter Honor this month in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

And if he were to leave a note in the Bush­nell dress­ing room for Ni­cholas Christo­pher, who is play­ing Burr on tour, what would he say?

“En­joy this mo­ment and stay as present as you pos­si­bly can,” says Odom. “There are so many small beau­ti­ful gifts right in the present mo­ment.”

“ANY­BODY WHO GOT TO SEE ME IN ‘HAMIL­TON’ SAW ME LIV­ING MY AB­SO­LUTE WILDEST DREAM.”

Con­trib­uted photo

Les­lie Odom Jr. played Aaron Burr in the orig­i­nal Broad­way pro­duc­tion of “Hamil­ton!”

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