Monday, March 26, 2018

Leslie Odom Jr. with the Minnesota Orchestra at Orchestra Hall

photo credit: Nathan Johnson
Last weekend, Aaron Burr arrived in Minneapolis. Or rather, the man responsible for creating empathy for the historical figure formerly known only as the guy who killed Alexander Hamilton, thanks to his Tony-winning performance in the musical masterpiece Hamilton (which I was fortunate enough to witness). But Leslie Odom, Jr. is so much more than Aaron Burr, as those of us lucky enough to be in the room where it happened (aka Orchestra Hall), experienced.

Leslie made his Broadway debut in RENT at the age of 17, but it would take another 17 years for the role that made him famous and for which he won the Tony. He left Hamilton after a year (as is common), and when asked what he wanted to do next, he said he wanted to perform with the Minnesota Orchestra. Or at least that's what he said to charm the crowd last weekend; and it worked, we were completely under his spell. But what he really wanted to do after his Hamilton success was make music, so that's what he did. He's recorded two albums in a style he describes as music that Nat King Cole would make today, and both went to the top of the Billboard Jazz charts. He's been performing with an awesome jazz quintet that he brought to Minneapolis for two shows, rescheduled from last fall's cancelled concert (he was asked to fill in for Katy Perry at the Victoria's Secret concert/fashion show, which he joked about). Leslie and his quintet would have been a great performance (with plenty of opportunities for the five talented musicians to show their stuff), but the cherry on the sundae was the inclusion of the gorgeous Minneosta Orchestra under the direction of Sarah Hicks.

as Aaron Burr (photo credit: Theo Wargo/Getty Images)
Leslie performed about a dozen and a half songs in two acts, both of which were preceeded by a performance from the Orchestra (a lovely medley of Bernstein's On the Town, and a silky smooth "Stormy Weather"). Leslie mostly performed songs from his albums and/or jazz standards, including a Nat King Cole medley that included "Mona Lisa," "Straighten Up and Fly Right," and "Unforgettable." But those attending the show for the Hamilton songs were not disappointed; he sang his three biggest numbers from the show ("Wait For It, "Dear Theodosia," and "The Room Where It Happens"). He also sang a couple of other showtunes, including "Without You" from RENT and "The Guilty Ones" from Spring Awakening, both of which began with an orchestral arrangement that I could not identify (and now I want to hear the orchestra perform the entire score of RENT and Spring Awakening and all of the rock musicals). His encore number is one I never could have predicted, "Killing Me Softly," but it was pretty dreamy. Leslie's voice is so pretty, in addition to being emotionally expressive, that whether you knew the song or not, it was beautiful, new, and somehow familiar.

Listening to the Minnesota Orchestra perform is always a good choice, but for those more musical theater minded (like myself), there are a couple more opportunities for the mix of Broadway and orchestra, including six-time Tony winner Audra McDonald this summer, and Glinda herself, Kristin Chenowith, next January. See the Minnesota Orchestra website for details on all of their concerts and events.