Leslie Odom Jr. on Why 'Hamilton' Keeps Resonating and 'Rising to the Moment'

Lin-Manuel Miranda Phillipa Soo Hamilton
Courtesy of Disney+

Lin-Manuel Miranda is Alexander Hamilton and Phillipa Soo is Eliza Hamilton in HAMILTON, the filmed version of the original Broadway production.

With a live-stage filming of the Broadway smash Hamilton debuting on Disney+ in July, consumption of the Hamilton cast album skyrocketed, resulting in a No. 2 peak on the Billboard 200 and a streaming spike that, as of November, had yet to return to its previous level in January. Below, Leslie Odom Jr. — who won a Tony Award for his portrayal of Aaron Burr — reflects on the extended phenomenon and finally getting to see the original Broadway cast as a spectator.

Tony Duran
Leslie Odom Jr.

"With the show streaming on Disney+, I got to see what all the fuss was about. It’s a snapshot, a glimpse of a different time in my life, where I was a useful member of a championship team. I hope it’s not the peak, but it was a peak of my life, for sure. And with the cast album, it’s why you strive for as close to perfection as you can in the moment because you just don’t know how long something is going to hang on. We certainly hoped that it would be relevant for years to come.

“Even after a great show at the Richard Rodgers Theatre [on Broadway], only 1,300 people would have seen that performance. On any given night, I’d come home and get 25, 30 [congratulatory] messages — and that’s a good night. Never were 30,000 people reaching out to me at the same time! [The production’s director] Tommy [Kail] said to me the Thursday before it premiered, ‘Leslie, do you realize that this weekend, more people are going to see you in the show than saw your entire run on Broadway?’ I did something like 500 shows, and in one weekend, the power of a streaming platform meant that more people would see it on Fourth of July weekend than all 500 shows combined.

Hamilton was not supposed to come out until next fall, but we have a global pandemic, everybody’s home, and we were still reeling from the public lynching of George Floyd, from the audacity of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery. ... With the release of this film, we were also trying to rise to the moment. How can this release be of service? We were separated, we were trying to wrap our minds around quarantine, but there’s a movement happening in the streets. Some of the same people that we’re representing onstage, they’re tearing down their statues in the streets. We came together to raise money for several organizations that we identified as doing the work in the community and country that needs to be done for healing and change.”

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This article originally appeared in the Dec. 19, 2020, issue of Billboard.