Review | Leslie Odom Jr. returns to Iowa City with invigorating Hancher performance

‘Hamilton’ alum and multi-hyphenate performer Leslie Odom Jr. returned to Iowa City on Sept. 24 for an invigorating, varied concert at Hancher Auditorium.


Lillie Hawker

Leslie Odom Jr performs at Hancher Auditorium in Iowa City on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022.

Parker Jones, Arts Editor

As the overhead lights dimmed and the audience rang out its first bout of applause, Leslie Odom Jr. took the stage in a navy blue suit and pristine white kicks. On the evening of Sept. 24, Odom returned to Hancher Auditorium for another vocal performance. 

Odom, a Tony and Grammy-award-winning singer and actor, gained initial recognition for performing in the debut cast of the renowned Broadway musical Hamilton as Aaron Burr in 2015, but he has since also released several of his own singles and albums. Odom is no stranger to Iowa City and Hancher; he spoke in the UI’s lecture series and performed a free concert on Hancher Green in 2017.  

Visitors filed into the auditorium donning fall sweaters, cozy flannels, or formal blazers for the September performance. The cerulean-purple-lit stage complemented the jazzy instrumental tunes as seats slowly filled — attendees greeted familiar faces and chatted before the concert began. 

 Immediately, the performer began with a song to commemorate the beginning of fall, with a rendition of the jazz standard “Autumn Leaves,” accompanied by the band and background lights, which shifted to coordinate with the lyrics “red and gold.”  

Odom’s accompanying band consisted of Steven Walker on guitar, Christopher Cadenhead on piano, Eric England on bass, and Gene Coye on drums. For every tune, the band played phenomenally; they complemented Odom with equally polished, often-animated instrumentals. 

Most of the songs performed, including covers of Nat King Cole songs “Mona Lisa,” “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” and “Unforgettable,” perfectly represented Odom’s voice: chill-inducing yet relaxing with incredibly smooth, soft tones. The audience agreed, clapping vigorously after every solo from the band or particularly high note hit. 

Joking that he had “serious work to do now,” which put a smile on my face, Odom continued with a multilingual rendition of “L-O-V-E,” also by Nat King Cole. First beginning with lyrics in French, German, Spanish, and a slew of other languages, Odom relied on a paper sheet to help him remember the proper translation for each lyric. Still, he delivered another fantastic version of an already classic song. 

Odom was also sure to turn toward the accompanying musicians whenever they had a solo, giving his full attention to them.  At one point he sat down casually on a stool, taking a swig from a mug of water while listening to the guitarist begin the next tune: “A Change is Gonna Come” originally by pioneering soul artist Sam Cooke, who Odom portrayed in the 2020 film One Night in Miami

The performance continued with Odom thanking Iowa City, stating that “it was good to be back.” 

He also joked that the next song was another by Nat King Cole, but the incipit melody of  “Wait For It” from Hamilton. I couldn’t help but mouth along the words as he sang; I am a lifelong Hamilton fan at heart. This live rendition was as energizing and incredible as I remember the original Broadway soundtrack version being, if not a bit jazzier.  

RELATED: UI Lecture Committee hosts ‘An Evening with Gabby Douglas’ at Hancher Auditorium

The next song was the first original composition of the concert, Odom’s “Winter Song” from his 2016 “Simply Christmas” album. White snow-like light projections danced across the curtained background in time with the beat. 

Odom said that “Sunny side of the street” was a favorite song of his to perform, and encouraged the audience to sing along — to a lackluster response that Odom acknowledged with a laugh. The next song, however, garnered head-bobbing audience participation with every “call and response” from the tune “Minnie the Moocher,” originally featured in a 1931 Betty Boop short. 

“Dear Theodosia,” another Hamilton classic, was emotion-filled and nostalgic; the lights that were projected on the background flipped around to twinkle over the audience, as Odom encouraged attendees to sing along once again. 

The concert ended with another thankful statement from Odom, before an absolutely invigorating performance of “The Room Where It Happened,” with Odom tossing the microphone stand down onto the stage. He belted the last few notes as powerful as ever, to thunderous applause and a standing ovation from the audience. People kept clapping until he came back on stage. 

“I never assume an encore, I was halfway to the parking lot,” Odom said before prepping his final song of the night. 

The encore was a cover of “You’ve Got A Friend” by Carole King — a slow song to wind everyone down. The audience sang along to the “winter, spring, summer, fall” lyric before clearing out of the auditorium.