Leslie Odom Jr. opened this year’s BRAVO! series to two packed crowds in BYU’s HFAC. Odom is a Tony and Grammy Award winner, best known for his role as Aaron Burr in the original cast of the Broadway hit “Hamilton.”
Both nights were sold out, with patrons waiting outside the de Jong Concert Hall long before performances began. Jeffrey Martin, presenter of the BRAVO! series, said there was a high demand for tickets.
“The first concert sold out in about four or five hours, which is the fastest I’ve seen here,” Martin said.
Odom sang a variety of songs, including jazz classics by Nat King Cole and music from “Rent” and “Hamilton.” He also told his story of following his dream in music and theater.
Odom’s first performance was at church as a young child, singing “This Little Light of Mine.” He said his biggest dream at age 16 was to perform on Broadway in “Rent.” Odom auditioned, thinking he was beginning a 10-year process of repeated auditioning before landing a big role. But, much to his surprise, he got the part.
“I lived my wildest dream at 17, and I’m really grateful for that because it forced me to dream bigger,” Odom said.
Several years and acting stints later, Odom went to see an early reading of the first act of “Hamilton.”
“You couldn’t get a ticket even then,” Odom joked. “You had to knock somebody over the head to get in there, which I did.”
Odom said he was brought to tears when he saw four men of color standing on stage, singing about love and brotherhood.
“That was the revolution to me,” Odom said.
He got the part of Aaron Burr, the show’s antagonist, and the rest is history.
Odom said “Hamilton” felt very personal to him.
“‘Hamilton’ really connected me to mission and reconnected me to ministry,” Odom said. “In that kind of venture, even if it’s secular, you can usher somebody into the presence of God, I think.”
Odom said he felt this July that the time had come for him to move on, so he left the show to produce his own jazz CD. He said his band’s original vision was to “make the kind of music that Nat King Cole would make today,” but in the process of realizing that vision, Odom took it in his own direction.
“Sometime along the way I decided I wanted to stop making music like Nat and start making it like myself,” Odom said.
For both longtime jazz fans and those yearning to see “Hamilton” on the stage, the show was a satisfying experience.
“Coming out of this, I feel a little like I just saw ‘Hamilton’ on Broadway,” said Maizie Toland, a BYU sophomore. “Jazz is just so fun, and the fact that he did ‘Hamilton’ too was just awesome. 10 out of 10, I would go again.”
The BRAVO! series exists to inspire students to reach new heights in their academic and professional achievement.
“It’s really kind of diverse, in that we have classical music, American song and Broadway music, theatre and dance, so that’s really what the series is about. It’s about reinforcing the academic learning of the academic departments,” Martin said. “So I try to bring in a variety, a diverse mixture of professionals who can demonstrate the things that our students are trying to master.”
The next concert in the BRAVO! series will feature the Branford Marsalis Quartet with special guest Kurt Elling. They will perform on Thursday, Sept. 15, in the Pardoe Theatre.