There are few elements that come together with absolute synchronization and full complement. Bread and butter, ice cream and cake, me and tequila. Well, here’s a couple more to add to the list. Leslie Odom, Jr. and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. These two stars collided for one night on November 1st and the result was a heady mix of vocal and orchestral talent that, while at times overwhelming, was nonetheless an impressive tour de force by two of the most highly regarded participants on the entertainment scene today.
… an outstanding evening of entertainment…
That the concert happened at all was rather an undertaking. The lockout of the symphony necessitated a rescheduling by a few months, and the handful of empty seats could probably be blamed on that. But those of us lucky enough to be in attendance were treated to some moments of sheer, unadulterated talent.
Liberally sprinkled with anecdotes that gave us all some fascinating insights into what led the kid from Philadelphia to his exalted place as a Tony and Grammy winner (not to mention the Fred and Estelle Adair Award for Best Dancer on Broadway,) the evening was, for the most part, a terrific showcase for both the BSO and Odom. I’m not sure why there wasn’t more oversight into how the sound would project across the majestic space of the Meyerhoff concert hall, but the first half of the show was at times unintelligible, which was a crying shame. The obviously well-chosen tunes became a veritable wall of unrecognizable sound to both my companion and me. But when we could hear clearly, the songs were outstanding. Accompanied by his ultra-hip band, Remedy, Odom commanded the stage from start to finish.
Beginning with the overture from West Side Story, the orchestra set the bar high. The superb string section lived up to their sterling reputation and the rest of the musicians followed suit in fine fashion. The entire evening was under the baton of Nicholas Hersh, whose conducting style ranges from the balletic to the ballistic and is always extremely engaging.
Leslie Odom is best known to theatergoers for his Tony-winning turn as the original Aaron Burr in the eponymous Hamilton, the most successful production to hit Broadway since, well, ever. Mr. Odom tells the story of his meteoric rise to stardom after that role when producers came to him and asked him, ‘What do you want to do now? Movies? More TV?” He has had quite a bit of success in both, most notably in movies such as The Orient Express and television series like Smash and a recurring role on Law and Order SUV. But he answered, somewhat tongue in cheek, “I want to sing with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra!” While I doubt that he was that specific, his performance with the BSO was a beautiful example of a genre where he is totally at home. Despite the sound level issues of the first half of the program, Mr. Odom demonstrated exactly why he is the successful concert performer he has become. Highlights of the first half included “Wait for It” from the musical that launched his career into orbit, though I much preferred the second selection, “Winter Song.” The Nat King Cole medley was particularly poignant, and the first half closer, “Sunny Side,” was a jazzy rendition of the old favorite better known as “Sunny Side of the Street.”
By the second half of the program, the sound difficulties had been largely corrected. The orchestra kicked things off with a lyrical arrangement of “My Funny Valentine” before the guest star returned to the stage. A beautiful song I’d never heard before, “Sarah,” from A Civil War, gave him a chance to express his softer side. A respectful tribute to the late Congressman Elijah Cummings in a medley of Aulde Lang Syne and Come Sunday brought tears to the eyes of a good many audience members.
Mr. Odom promised the audience at the outset that we would have to wait for more of the iconic songs from “Hamilton” that a lot of those in attendance had come to hear. It was well worth the wait, as he sang a veritable greatest hits medley from the show that made him a star. Dear Theodosia and The Room Where It Happens had the audience rocking and rolling and hanging on his every word. Even non-rap fans could not help but be enthralled and swept along in the wake of his energetic, fabulous performance. The evening wound down with an expected encore. I had not been aware that a 17-year-old Odom had made his Broadway debut in the original run of “Rent,” and it was from that show he chose to sing Without You, leaving us hanging on those final notes with a desire to hear more. But all great things must finally end, and Leslie Odom, Jr. and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra concert was no exception. It was an outstanding evening of entertainment that we were all privileged to witness.
Leslie Odom Jr. and Baltimore Symphony Orchestra performed for one night on November 1, 2019, at Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Meyerhoff). For more information on Leslie Odom, Jr., click here. For more information on the BSO, click here.