An Appalachian Summer Festival, App State‘s award-winning month-long celebration of the arts, opened its 2023 season Saturday night with a charming evening of song by Leslie Odom Jr.

Best known for originating the role of Aaron Burr in the acclaimed musical Hamilton and portraying Sam Cooke in Regina King’s One Night in Miami, in this concert Odom revealed himself to be one of the finest song stylists of his generation.

Odom won a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical in Hamilton, an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor in One Night in Miami, and a Best Original Song nomination for co-writing “Speak Now” for One Night.

He and his mighty tight band swung through the Great American Song Book and some musical theatre favorites, peppered with self-effacing patter that brought the audience to laughter. He proceeded to cast a spell with his warm and agile tenor voice. Odom brings an open-heartedness to the stage that reveals the depth of the songs that he sings, and in some cases imbues them with deeper meaning.

Odom opened the show with a jazzy version of “Autumn Leaves,” with a little French thrown in, then swerved into a medley of more Nat King Cole melodies and a joke about how the younger audience members – known to be avid fans of Hamilton – might have had to stretch a little bit to appreciate that particular era of song.

He made King Cole’s songs his own with his renditions of “Mona Lisa,” “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” “Unforgettable,” “L-O-V-E” in French, German, and a few other languages, and “When I Fall in Love.”

Then he threw the Hamilton fans a bone with the tender but fast-paced “Wait For It,” a song that shows the patience of Odom’s character Burr compared to Alexander Hamilton who can’t wait, and who “takes and takes and takes.”

Odom’s band was stellar, including a star turn by drummer David Chiverton who imitated a tap dance on the drum rims to accompany the singer’s delightful “Sunny Side of the Street.” Other members were Eric England on bass, Steven Walker on guitar, and Christopher Cadenhead on piano and keyboard.

Odom brought the audience in on Cab Calloway’s always-fun “Minnie the Moocher” – “Hi-de-hi-de-hi-de-hi,” etc., – and they joined in full-throat and full-throttle.

After sharing his Oscar-nominated “Speak Now,” Odom did credit to a short medley of Sam Cooke songs: the soulful and hopeful “A Change Is Gonna Come,” “Bring It On Home to Me,” and “You Send Me.”

Starting to wrap up the eventful 90-minute concert, Odom performed an a cappella version of Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young,” paired with “Dear Theodosia” from Hamilton.

He finished with the one that Hamilton fans have been waiting for, his tour-de-force from the show, “The Room Where It Happened.” It’s a great song that expresses Burr’s disappointment that he wasn’t in that room, and that Hamilton emerged as the founder of the Federal Reserve Bank with unprecedented fiscal power in the new country of America. The song is half rap, half show tune, and Odom brought down the house with it in Boone.

Odom was full of surprises. Brought back by the audience for an encore, he sang a stirring and tender version of Franz Schubert’s “Ave Maria,” accompanied only by the pianist.

Then he closed the show with the song that he said first opened his heart: “Without You” from Jonathan Larson’s Rent. If the audience’s hearts weren’t open by then, that ballad did the job. Odom delivered just the right amount of heartache and beauty to bring a gorgeous end to a gorgeous evening of song.

But wait, there’s more. Appalachian Summer Festival will run through July 29 with sculpture and other visual art, films, classical and popular music concerts, dance performances, including John Oates, Darius Rucker, Keb Mo’, Dance Theatre of Harlem, and more. Visit or call 828-262-4046.