Every generation produces new stars that light up the entertainment firmament, and without question Leslie Odom Jr. is definitely one of them. The 31-year-old performer proved as much during his impressive world premiere of “Leslie Odom Jr.: Introducing…Leslie Odom Jr.!”, Friday (the first of a two-night run) at the Cabaret at the Columbia Club in downtown Indianapolis.
Luster was added to Odom’s dynamic Cabaret debut by the splendid piano accompaniment of his seasoned music director, Todd Schroeder, who has also worked with the likes of Nell Carter and currently plays for Sam Harris (with whom he appeared with at the Cabaret in 2012).
And if the collaboration of these two gifted entertainers was not enough for the energized, full-house audience present, then a bonus was the surprise appearance of his gorgeous wife — actor and singer Nicolette Robinson (they were married in December) — who joined him for several songs.
Odom, who made his debut in “Rent” on Broadway at the age of 17, is best known for his role as Sam Strickland in the NBC TV show “Smash,” which debuted in 2012. Last year, he also gained his share of attention for his appearance in “Red Tails,” a George Lucas film about the legendary Tuskegee Airmen, and for his award-winning role in “Leap of Faith” on Broadway. Odom has also appeared in numerous other TV programs, including Showtime’s “House of Lies” and “Supernatural” on the CW network.
These credits and others were the basis of Odom’s narrative regarding his background and career that he, often humorously, shared during his banter with the receptive audience between songs.
His comments also served to introduce songs on a set list that included Broadway tunes, songs made famous by some of his musical influences, and his hit single from “Smash” — all of which cleverly illustrated each juncture of his personal and professional journey.
Odom also humbly engaged the audience throughout his show with comments regarding the fact that it was the very first time he had done the show and apologizing in advance for any rough spots. But it was that same appealing forthrightness that served the affable Odom well, so much so that he could easily be forgiven for frequently referring to his sheet music placed on a stand in front of him.
In the end, Odom’s significant presence, showmanship and formidably expressive voice were all that mattered as he interpreted such songs as a jazzy “On a Clear Day” — with a wondrous piano solo by Schroeder — and “It Might Be You,” which served as his introduction to Nicolette.
Winding her way from the rear of the room where she had commenced singing — and to the astonishment of a completely surprised audience — Robinson joined her husband on stage to sing “I’ll Know,” from “Guys and Dolls.” Later she sang backup for him as he ably matched Frankie Valli’s remarkable falsetto in a medley of songs from “Jersey Boys.”
Odom later referenced his first big break when he sang a medley of songs from “Rent,” a show which he said he had aspired to be in ever since he first heard the cast album in a record store in his hometown of Philadelphia.
Sammy Davis Jr. is one of Odom’s music heroes and someone he said he hopes to play someday — if a project that has been in the works for several years sees the light of day. Recognizing Davis’ strength and perseverance, despite the racism the black entertainer encountered throughout his career, Odom honored him by singing “What Kind of Fool Am I?” and “Mr. Bojangles,” featuring another marvelous Schroeder solo.
Nat King Cole was celebrated for his savoir fare and sensitivity. Odom exhibited similar traits while singing, in his own velvety voice, a medley of songs during Act 2 that included “Mona Lisa,” “Straighten Up and Fly Right” and “Unforgettable.”
Two of the most dramatic moments of the evening occurred when Odom sang an intensely moving version of Frank Wildhorn’s “Sarah,” from the musical “The Civil War,” and when the uber-talented Robinson performed an equally touching rendition of “Whoever You Are I Love You,” by Burt Bacharach.
Odom closed his show with the soulful “Stand,” the iTunes hit that he recorded with his “Smash” co-star Katharine McPhee.
After leaving the stage to a standing ovation and exiting the applause-filled Crystal Terrace room, Odom returned for an encore number. Thanking the audience for their enthusiastic support, he poignantly sang an a capella version of “Forever Young.”
It was a conclusion to an evening that those present may look back on with particular fondness — and possibly even pride. And if showman Odom’s maiden voyage into the world of cabaret is any indication of things to come, those lucky enough to experience it may someday say, “I was there.”
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