Study it. Learn everything you can about it, read about it, talk about it. Go see as much theater as you can. There’s a library on your phone at home, so you can pull up so many past productions, legendary productions, of things that happen here or London or anywhere in the world and watch them, so I’d say that I don’t have a tip more important than that. That is one through five.

As a part of our series about creating a successful career in theatre, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Leslie Odom Jr.

Leslie Odom, Jr. is a multifaceted Tony and Grammy Award-winning, three-time Emmy and two-time Academy Award-nominated vocalist, songwriter, actor, and New York Times bestselling author. With a career that spans all performance genres, Odom has received recognition for his excellence and achievements in Broadway, television, film, and music. Most recently, Odom made his long-awaited return to Broadway starring in, and co-producing, the new Broadway production of the classic American comedy Purlie Victorious: A Non-Confederate Romp Through the Cotton Patch by the legendary Ossie Davis, which opened in September 2023 to widespread critical acclaim. His breakout role was ‘Aaron Burr’ in the smash hit Broadway musical Hamilton. Odom is a BMG recording artist and has released four full-length albums. His fifth studio album, When A Crooner Dies, is set for release on November 17, 2023.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Real city kid. I grew up making speeches and there was an oratorical competition. I sort of made a name for myself in my city, writing my own speeches and delivering them all around town. And from there, I got a scholarship to study the arts. And through the arts, I’ve made a life for myself.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

A show called Rent brought me to Broadway, I was 13 years old when this show came out. My favorite quote is that an artist spends their entire life trying to get back to the place where their heart was first opened up. Rent was the show that first opened my heart. I have to be honest, I never intended to have a career in the arts or entertainment. I wanted to be in Rent, and it didn’t even have to be on stage, I could have been pulling the curtain or working the follow spot, I would have been so happy to just be a part of that production. And I was a part of it. I joined the Broadway company when I was 17 years old, and I haven’t looked back ever since then.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Billy Porter has been a mentor and a friend. There are two things required of a mentor. I think they offer you their time, they have to make time for you in person or on the phone, and they have to be willing to tell you the truth. I think that’s it. They tell you the truth about the situations and the lessons they’ve learned in their lives. They tell you the truth about what they see in you and what they see for you. But in the end the decisions are always yours. And as a mentee, I think we are required to show our gratitude after we make good use of their advice.

You probably have a lot of fascinating experiences. Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

My fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Francis Turner, was the one who got me writing those speeches I mentioned earlier. I was getting into trouble in her class. She called my dad to a parent-teacher conference, and I wasn’t allowed in the room, so I still have no idea what she said to him. My dad took me home that night and he said, “Usually I do let you plead your case. I let you at least defend yourself when you get into trouble.” And he let me know, “With Ms. Turner, you will have no defense. I will take her word. Whatever she says, I will believe. And if you give that woman trouble, you’re going to have trouble with me.”

He’d never said anything like that before, so I took his advice to heart, and I shaped up in Mrs. Turner’s class, and I’m so glad I did. I mean, she was able to change my life once I gave her the space to. Once I stopped being a distraction, I was able to focus on what she was trying to teach me. And man, I could weep right now I’m just so grateful. She was my coach. She would help me write those speeches and practice them, and she’d drive me all around the city to deliver my speeches. We had a very special, wonderful relationship.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

There was this audition I went to, and you can get jaded quick after rejection and rejection and rejection. And so, I went through a phase where I wasn’t preparing for my auditions as thoroughly as I should have. I went into this audition and the casting director said, “So I want you to sit in that chair and do it from that chair.” And I was like, “Oh no, I’ve just been practicing standing up, and so I think I’d like to stand up so I can move around.” She was like, “Well, the scene takes place on a Ferris wheel, so I think you should sit down.” Clearly, I had not even read the sides thoroughly enough to know that I was supposed to be sitting on a Ferris wheel. That was very embarrassing. I obviously didn’t get the job, but I also made a fool of myself.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Well, I’m doing this interview from Kinderland — Kinder Chocolate’s immersive pop-up event which took place in NYC November 10th and 11th, 2023 — and I’ve recently partnered with the brand to launch their chocolate bar in the U.S. We’ve found real kinship and an opportunity for collaboration because Kinder Chocolate is all about celebrating moments of fun and play between parents and kids. It’s the perfect treat for my family to enjoy together because it’s easy to share with the breakable bars and individually wrapped portions.

I’ve also got the Broadway show, Purlie Victorious, at the Music Box Theater. It’s a very special revival of this Ossie Davis play which hasn’t been seen on Broadway in 62 years. I also have my new album, When a Crooner Dies, which will be out on November 17th.

You have been blessed with success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of rejection, lack of support, or failure?

The simplest advice that I have is to follow the thing that lights you up. Follow the thing that brings you the most joy. If you find a room in which you are being affirmed and valued and appreciated, a room in which you’re making friends and you feel confident, and you feel like yourself in that room, well stay there and see where that leads you. It sometimes leads you in directions that are unexpected, but I say go where the light is and go where you’re appreciated. The other thing is if you love something long enough and pure enough, eventually it’ll love you back. Not always in the way that you expect, but in the way that you need it to.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in the live performance industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

I wouldn’t choose to be a part of the arts without a true passion for it.

Thank you for all that. This is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career in Broadway, Theater or Live Performances” and why? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

Study it. Learn everything you can about it, read about it, talk about it. Go see as much theater as you can. There’s a library on your phone at home, so you can pull up so many past productions, legendary productions, of things that happen here or London or anywhere in the world and watch them, so I’d say that I don’t have a tip more important than that. That is one through five.

For the benefit of our readers, could you describe how the skill-sets you need in a theater performance are different than the skill-sets you need for TV or Film?

I think they’re the same. You need a sensitive instrument that is responsive. Sometimes the size is a little different depending on how close the camera is, but I don’t think that they’re all that different at all. At the Music Box, for instance, there’s some subtle, special work happening on that stage. Across from me I have Kara Young, Billy Eugene Jones, Vanessa Bell Calloway and Jay O. Sanders, and so many more beautiful actors. There is both subtle, special work and there is large, joyful theatrical work happening right alongside it, so the theater is everything, and the truth is great movies are everything as well.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Be the thing that you’re looking for. If you want an audience someday, be an audience first. If you want encouragement, be an encourager. If you want good friends to show up for you and be there for you, be a good friend that shows up and is there for someone else. I’ve found that life so often is a mirror.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

An artist spends their entire life trying to get back to the place where their heart was first opened up. That quote has helped me understand myself more than any other.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

How can our readers continue to follow your work online?


This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!


  • Savio P. Clemente

    TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor

    Savio P. Clemente, TEDx speaker and Stage 3 cancer survivor, infuses transformative insights into every article. His journey battling cancer fuels a mission to empower survivors and industry leaders towards living a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle. As a Board-Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), Savio guides readers to embrace self-discovery and rewrite narratives by loving their inner stranger, as outlined in his acclaimed TEDx talk: "7 Minutes to Wellness: How to Love Your Inner Stranger." Through his best-selling book and impactful work as a media journalist — covering inspirational stories of resilience and exploring wellness trends — Savio has collaborated with notable celebrities and TV personalities, bringing his insights to diverse audiences and touching countless lives. His philosophy, "to know thyself is to heal thyself," resonates in every piece.