With the success of NBC’s Smash, on which he plays chorus boy Sam Strickland, and his breakout performance on Broadway last season in the short-lived Leap of Faith, Leslie Odom Jr. is poised to be New York’s newest go-to guy. On August 25, he brings his talent to Northport’s John W. Engeman Theater as part of their acclaimed Broadway Concert Series. TheaterMania recently talked to Odom about the concert, his newfound fame, and what makes him cry.
THEATERMANIA: What do you have planned for the concert?
LESLIE ODOM, JR: I think that the best songs to sing are songs that you love, because you sing them with love when you love them. There’s this Frank Wildhorn tune “Sarah” — it’s not a widely known tune, but it’s my favorite song to sing. Maybe I will do some Sondheim or some Lieber and Stoller. I’m just showing up and having some fun.
TM: You have said that Sam Cooke, Donny Hathaway, and Marvin Gaye have taught you everything you know. Which of their songs best sums you up as a person?
LO: Donny Hathaway’s “For All We Know” is the song that I’ve sung the longest. It is a beautiful song about living in the moment, and appreciating this very second. That is the song I did for my Rent audition. It was completely inappropriate too, since it has nothing to do with that show!
TM: What’s going to be happening with Sam in the new season of Smash?
LO: All I can say is that Sam’s relationship with Tom (played by Tony Award winner Christian Borle) is still going at the start of the season. I can imagine that whether or not they stay together or run into trouble, they’re going to go through what all couples go through. I’ve been in a long-term relationship, and I’ll tell you, it’s never boring! People trying to merge their lives together always run into challenges.
TM: Is television your ideal genre?
LO: I wouldn’t say that it’s my ideal genre. It’s a wonderful challenge and a blessing to work in television, but theater is really my first love and I feel most comfortable there. But I love television, and I will work in television as long as they’ll have me.
TM How has being on the show changed your career?
LO: I have been doing television for the last decade, and nobody has stopped me on the street for the various guest spots and the recurring characters more than they have now that I’m on this show. It has put me in people’s living rooms. It has been kind of a commercial of my talent, so people have an awareness of who I am. I don’t know where this is going to lead me, but you can toil in obscurity for a long time in this business, and it’s good to have people aware of you. I would love more and more for everybody on Smash to become marquee names because I promise that if you buy tickets to a Broadway show that we’re in, we will deliver.
TM: Even though Leap of Faith had a short run, your performance stuck out so much that you were remembered at award time, including winning the Astaire Award. What was that experience like?
LO: It was very sweet, and it was a shock! I was also nominated for the Drama League Award, which was really wonderful and also bittersweet. By the time the award events came around, we were closed, and it was weird to be celebrating the hard work you put in and also not have a show that night.
TM: What did you learn from doing Leap of Faith?
LO: I had never put up a show from the ground up like that, so I fought to be in that room. It almost didn’t work out scheduling-wise with Smash, but I fought because I wanted to have that original Broadway cast experience, and I wanted to see how that show got put together.
TM: It seems to be a trend at the moment to bring movies to the stage. What film would you like to see adapted for the stage?
LO: I just read that Spike Lee is trying to adapt Do the Right Thing. I would love to be a part of that, or even School Daze.
TM: You’re getting married soon! What would your fiancée tell people if she wanted to embarrass you?
LO: I’m not a person who really cries in life, but when it comes to movies and shows, art makes me weep very fast. I’m a puddle on the floor at the end of some ridiculous movie. And oh gosh, with the Olympics, I could not watch somebody winning a gold medal without crying. It’s pathetic! I’m on the treadmill at the gym watching the Olympics and crying. It’s the saddest thing you have ever seen. That is what my fiancée would say to embarrass me!