Concert Review: Leslie Odom Jr. at the Groton Hill Music Center — The Room Where It Happened
By Glenn Rifkin
Given the overwhelmingly loud and appreciative response from the sold-out crowd, which hung on every note of Leslie Odom,Jr.’s diverse and stirring set list, he’s unlikely to forget Groton anytime soon.
Sometime midway through his crowd-pleasing 90-minute set at Groton Hill Music Center on Sunday night, Tony- and Grammy-winning vocalist and actor Leslie Odom Jr., one of the breakout stars of the musical Hamilton, stopped for a reflective moment. Having double-checked with the audience on the pronunciation of Groton (rhymes with gotten), Odom recalled how his star turn as Aaron Burr, which earned him a 2016 Tony for Best Performance by an actor in a musical, led to a rush of agents knocking on his door. “What do you want to do now?” they clamored. The world, they promised, was his oyster.
With a pause and then a deadpan delivery, Odom said, “I want to play Groton!” The crowd went wild with laughter and applause. “I made it, baby!” Odom shouted.
Bringing a touch of Broadway, Hollywood, and the Great American Songbook, the versatile Odom was no doubt surprised that his career trajectory brought him to this beautiful venue set in the apple orchards of this northwest suburb of Boston. Obviously, the New York City native had never heard of this bucolic little community in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere.
Given the overwhelmingly loud and appreciative response from the sold-out crowd, which hung on every note of Leslie Odom Jr.’s diverse and stirring set list, he’s unlikely to forget Groton anytime soon.
That energy clearly infused the 41-year-old Odom and his tight four-piece band and turned the 1000-seat concert hall into the room where it happened. With his powerful yet velvety tenor, Odom sprinkled his set with a couple of his signature numbers from Hamilton, including “Wait for It” and “Room Where It Happened.” He added the stirring anthem “Speak Now,” which he co-wrote for the 2020 film One Night in Miami, in which he starred as the late singer/songwriter Sam Cooke. Odom earned an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor and the song garnered a best song nomination.
He started the evening in a soft, jazzy mood with a medley of Nat King Cole standards, including “Mona Lisa,” “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” and “Unforgettable.” Saying little to the audience, he added “When I Fall in Love,” another Cole tune, before turning to the Bert Kaempfert standard “L-O-V-E,” which he sang in multiple languages, much to the audience’s delight.
As he moved through his repertoire, Odom’s star power became more evident, with a falsetto riff here, a silky dance move there, that illustrated a level of talent that would have made him a star in any era. One could see him as a Sinatra crooner, a Motown icon, a song and dance man in vaudeville. He stood away from the microphone and sang Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” with a voice strong enough to fill the hall.
He recounted his first glimpse of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton when it was in its earliest iterations on a tiny stage in Poughkeepsie, New York. Allowed into the crowded venue by a friendly usher, Odom sat mesmerized — he was convinced he was seeing genius. He confessed that he couldn’t have dreamed in a million years that he would have the opportunity to star in the show. But it was a cathartic moment. “An artist spends their entire life trying to get back to the place where their heart was first opened up,” he explained. Seeing the seeds of Hamilton did that for him, and it changed his life.
Appropriately, Odom ended the set with a blowout rendition of Hamilton‘s “The Room Where It Happened,” and the audience roared to its feet. He came back for an encore with a moving and soulful “Ave Maria” and then paid tribute to Rent, another Broadway smash that helped shape his career. He talked about how he landed a part in that groundbreaking musical as a 17-year-old and then sang “Without You” to close the night.
Performers heading for the Groton Hill Music Center in the near future are Bruce Hornsby on June 24, Lori McKenna on July 29, Bela Fleck on August 5, and Shawn Colvin on September 8.
Glenn Rifkin is a veteran journalist and author who has covered business for many publications including the New York Times for nearly 30 years. He has written about music, film, theater, food and books for the Arts Fuse. His book Future Forward: Leadership Lessons from Patrick McGovern, the Visionary Who Circled the Globe and Built a Technology Media Empire was published by McGraw-Hill.