It’s the holiday season, and Leslie Odom Jr. has much to be thankful for. He’s back on Broadway starring in the title role of Purlie Victorious, written by the late great Ossie Davis. His new album, When a Crooner Dies, dropped in mid-November 2023. As he revealed to EBONY at the Kinderland “Let Your Kid Flag Fly” event presented by Kinder Chocolate in New York City, the music helped him get through one of the most trying times of his life.
"I went through a tough season. Those are waiting there for all of us, I ain’t special,” he shared. “I journaled through it, prayed through it and hoped that I would get to see the other side of it. Once I did, I decided to find the courage to write about it.”
With better times ahead, he and his wife, fellow Broadway powerhouse Nicolette Robinson, and their two children are already sipping on eggnog. “Nicolette, she starts decorating for the holiday and playing Christmas music early,” he declared. “We were just listening to Christmas with Brandy and picking out our Christmas tree as a family. There's a whole voting and naming process. It’s a big deal because the tree is the centerpiece of the whole season and our holiday decor.”
Here, the Tony Award-winner shares more about his love of chocolate and which Hamilton pal he’s collaborating with in 2024.
EBONY: You’re back on stage in Purlie Victorious. What drew you to this story that hasn't been on Broadway in 60 years?
Leslie Odom Jr: It was attractive to me because it wasn't an overdone property. It wasn’t one of those perennial shows that it seems, every other year, we get a new production. And the great writing. I was looking for something that felt like it was a greater challenge than what I had just done. And with Hamilton, I had just done the greatest challenge of my career. So that's hard; it takes a second to find. And Mr. Davis has certainly given me that with his Purlie Victorious.
Why do you think this play still resonates in 2023?
Well, part of that is due to the determined, recalcitrant, intransigent nature of racism in this country. And part of that, I think, is because Mr. Davis is getting at truth. The truth always resonates. It's why Shakespeare, Moliere, Sophocles and Checkov — these plays that have been around for thousands of years can still move you and be a revelation because they’re about the human experience. Mr. Davis is getting at that as well. I hope for better days in our country and believe in spiritual awakening and emotional maturation to get past some things that have held us back. And even then, I imagine a great production of Purlie Victorious would resonate because the truth is always right on time.
When a Crooner Dies, your fifth studio album, is your most personal yet. How did that tough season affect you?
It was an emotional, spiritual and mental season of growth. I found that I did not have the tools to deal with the challenges that life was presenting me; I had to get new tools. That’s easier said than done. To stay in pace with the rest of the world, I think it's invaluable for an artist to go dark. Now and again, you have to get off social media and go live your life. It ain't all about the movies and Broadway shows and music; this album is about my life. This is about raising kids and trying to keep the family together and trying to hold on to my soul. It's about the kind of stuff everybody's going through, so I decided to write the album that I needed to hear. I remember when I was a kid, people made music that stuck to your bones that you would turn to when you were going through something. I hope this is one of those records that people can turn to in their season of challenge and difficulty. I hope people will make the time to listen to it. It’s 10 songs and about 31 minutes of original music, but it took me a lifetime to write. I'm so proud of it. It sounds exactly the way I dreamed it would.
So good to hear, and now you can truly enjoy your chocolate! How much of a sweet tooth do you have?
It’s a problem, but I've gotten my arms around it. When I'm doing a show, it's like low-level cardio, especially when I was younger. I didn't have to worry about it. I do indulge and that's part of our parenting, to let our kids be kids and have chocolate now and again — everything in moderation. Kinder Chocolate has helped us create those special moments. Nicola, the kids and I both love the quality of the product and the taste.
How does it feel to celebrate the holidays and special occasions with your children?
When I was a bachelor, I’d run if I saw a parade or any kind of commotion. I would circumvent it. But with the kids, I push the stroller right into the center of it all because they're experiencing it for the very first time: every parade, every museum, every park. Kinderland is a big hit with [my daughter] Lucy and [son] Able.
What have you learned about dad parenting a 6-year-old girl?
My daughter is super girly, and she's pretty silly. I really have loved meeting my kid and meeting more of her from year to year as she comes into herself and her personality. A couple of weeks ago, she had a little thing that required her to put drops in her ears, and it was a whole big thing. My wife sent me a video of Lucy doing the drops for herself. And while she was doing it, she was coaching her brother through it: “Don’t worry, Able, sissy’s ok.” It's so fun getting to know them.
What do your children love to do? Are they musical like their dad?
Lucy loves to perform. She loves dressing up and imaginative play, and she loves to read. She is very curious and creative. We call Able the scientist. He's got this big sister, and he's so eager to know what she knows; he doesn't like her knowing something he doesn't know. There are a lot of questions and reading and a real thirst for knowledge in that kid.
What will you be working on in 2024?
I've got a project in development with Daveed Diggs, my Hamilton brother, who has written one of the finest scripts anyone has ever sent me. He adapted one of those works of the great Percival Everett, who's also having a moment with Cord Jefferson [adapting his book Erasure] for American Fiction. Hopefully, we're going to be a part of that. Daveed's done a beautiful job on this script.