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Leslie Odom Jr. on Hearing Cynthia Erivo Sing for the First Time

Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr.71st Annual
Andrew H. Walker/Variety/REX/Shu

For Variety’s latest issue, we asked Leslie Odom Jr. to write a tribute to Cynthia Erivo, one of 50 people to make our New Power of New York list. Here’s why Erivo represents a new generation of movers and shakers that capture the best of Manhattan. For the full list, click here.

“That little girl has such a kind face.” That was my first thought when I laid eyes on Cyn for the very first time.

OK, so … I had misjudged this tiny “book” completely by its adorable cover. There was a lion and there was a wildfire just behind those kind eyes and warm smile. It knocked me flat when I heard the voice for the first time a few hours later. It still does.

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We were in Long Island City at a rehearsal for a friend’s wedding, maybe four years ago. I was first up since I was to sing while the bride made her procession. I finished my part, and on my way out the door, a young girl had entered the space whom I hadn’t noticed five minutes earlier. She was a light — in huge Steve Urkel glasses, jean shorts, the simplest black T with the sleeves cut off, colorful calf-length socks, high tops and the megawatt smile.

Midway through the wedding, the piano player starts playing again, but the voice is coming from behind us this time: the balcony. Same “girl,” entirely different swag. She’s a stunner. In that moment, literally seeing her grow from a child to a woman in a matter of hours, it was enough to take your breath away. Cynthia Erivo will take your breath away.

She brought the lion and the wildfire to center stage each night during her triumphant run in the revival of “The Color Purple” on Broadway. The role won her a Tony and a Grammy as the business seemed to try its best to invent new ways to say “Thank you” for what she conjured onstage nightly.

Next year, she’ll make her big-screen debut in Steve McQueen’s “Widows” alongside Viola Davis. More film work looks likely and within reach.

When our daughter was born earlier this year, we asked Cyn to be one of two godmothers. We were so happy for Lucile when Cynthia agreed! She’ll have a front-row seat as “Auntie Cyn” continues to slay dragons.

Iveta Karpathyova for Variety

Leslie Odom Jr. won a Tony for playing Aaron Burr in “Hamilton.” Read the rest of our New Power of New York list.