By Tom Alvarez, Indianapolis Performing Arts Examiner
February 20, 2013
Fans of NBC’s “Smash,” Showtime’s “House of Lies” and CW’s “Supernatural” will surely recognize actor Leslie Odom Jr. He’s a rising television, film and Broadway star who is making his cabaret debut in “Leslie Odom Jr.: Introducing…Leslie Odom Jr.,” Friday, Feb. 22 and Saturday, Feb. 23 at The Cabaret at the Columbia Club in downtown Indianapolis.
2012 was a tremendous year for Odom. In addition to the exposure he received playing Sam Strickland, the choreographer and performer on the musical drama “Smash,” Odom won high praise for his role in “Leap of Faith” on Broadway and was featured in “Red Tails,” a George Lucas film about the legendary Tuskegee Airmen.
Recently, Examiner.com spoke by phone with Odom. Now bi-coastal with a home in Los Angeles, he was calling from New York City, where “Smash” is shot and where he is filming episodes.
Odom says that other than performing occasionally over the last 8–9 years at LA’s Upright Cabaret, he has never had his own act. Chris Isaacson, producer/host of the popular cabaret nightspot, repeatedly asked him to put together a show but he always refused: “I would see other performers do an entire evening of just themselves, but I felt intimidated. I didn’t think I was ready. But he asked me again and this time I said yes. I have a chance to do a lot of wonderful things and meet some really great people, so I am just going to share the stories of those experiences and sing songs straight from my heart. I am so looking forward to doing this show in front of an Indianapolis audience.”
Todd Schroeder, who played piano for Sam Harris when they appeared together in 2011 at the Cabaret, is Odom’s music director and will join him for his world premiere Cabaret engagement. Odom declares: “Todd is a brilliant accompanist. He spent his 20s traveling around the country playing for Nell Carter. He has played for so many people. He’s brought such a breadth and wealth of knowledge to how this is done. He is a master of the cabaret art form. He’s also a great director and really knows how to choose the right material.”
Odom’s set list will consist of songs from Broadway and “Smash,” including “Stand,” the duet he performed with Katharine McPhee that is currently the number one selling single off the soundtrack available on iTunes. He will also perform the music of Michael Jackson and Marvin Gaye, two of his musical idols.
“Smash,” which will wrap up shooting its second season in a few more weeks, has predictably had quite an impact on Odom’s career: “I have been doing television for about a decade, and it’s been a lot of shows nobody has watched — 10 episodes of this and six episodes of that. I’ve made a living, which is wonderful, but ‘Smash’ is the thing that people will stop me on the subway for. Even when I’m home in Philadelphia I get stopped in the street. I get recognized a lot. Not in a way that is intrusive, but it’s on a pretty regular basis and I’m very grateful for that. It’s given me the recognition that I’ve worked so hard for.”
Regarding the popularity of “Smash,” Odom says: “I think we’re experiencing a resurgence of the musical. It’s really popular right now thanks to film musicals and TV talent shows like ‘American Idol,’ ‘America’s Got Talent’ and ‘The Voice.’ There’s a real celebration of talent and good old-fashioned singing, dancing and acting. Now, here’s a show with a storyline about that art form.”
As far as the feedback he has received about his character, who happens to be gay, Odom says: “I have gotten really positive feedback. Theresa Rebeck, the show’s creator, really wanted to present a character that was new — someone who hadn’t been seen on television before. I am thrilled to be able to take on the responsibility of playing this guy. The response — to my face, anyways — has been very positive.”
Odom was also asked whether a lot of attention was paid toward ensuring that Sam’s character was non-stereotypical, to which he replied: “There was. There was extra special attention. I certainly wasn’t interested in playing a stereotype and had they [the producers] wanted me to, they couldn’t have hired me. I felt the ideas for the character were really interesting. They tried to tell the truth about people we know. Sam is like the people I know and love. They are my closest friends. He’s not new to me, but he is definitely new on the television landscape.”
During the season premiere of “Smash,” Sam broke up with his boyfriend, Tom Levitt (Christian Borle), leaving viewers to wonder what would happen to him: “Sam leaves, but returns after six episodes and ends up in a new show called ‘Hit List.’ Without giving too much away, I can tell you that the character in the show within the show is in the record business and has lots of power and lots of money,” says Odom.
Referring to his short-term goals, Odom says: “I would like to continue to see where this is going to lead. We don’t know what is going to happen with ‘Smash,’ but I am going to do something exciting on the New York stage this spring that I can’t talk about. Last spring I did ‘Leap of Faith’ on Broadway, and this year I am doing an off-Broadway show with a very different character. I am so excited about it. It will be announced very soon.”
“Eventually, I would like to be more of an integral part of storytelling on a big TV show. I love TV. I was raised on it. My family allowed me to watch more TV than I probably should have. I didn’t know it then, but it prepared me because I really understand the medium. ‘Smash’ has been a wonderful step, but I would like to have more to do on a big TV show,” says Odom.
Returning to the subject of his cabaret show, Odom was asked what audiences can expect if they come to see him perform, to which he replied: “They can expect some good singing. I am a fan of good singing myself and am rehearsing diligently to deliver that. Also, if they have seen any of my work on ‘Smash’ or ‘Supernatural’ or ‘CSI: Miami,’ I hope they’ll come out and get to know me on a deeper level.”
For tickets and information about “Leslie Odom Jr.: Introducing…Leslie Odom Jr.,” and other 2012–2013 season performances at The Cabaret at the Columbia Club, call (317) 275-1169 or visit www.thecabaret.org.
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