A Hamilton star headlines a star-studded new animated hit about the Big Apple

Central ParkApple TV+For Tony- and Grammy-winning actor Leslie Odom, Jr., participating in his friend Josh Gad’s latest project, the animated musical series about an earnest park manager living in the heart of New York City with his family, seemed like a low-risk commitment. “We’ve known each other a very long time, we went to college together, and I don’t say no to Josh. At minimum, I know I’m going to laugh until I cry,” says Odom. “It started with that, and it has turned into this really wonderful, rewarding gift of an experience. I guess I owe him one.”

Surely, the feeling for Gad and his Central Park co-creators Loren Bouchard and Nora Smith is mutual. The charming musical series, that Odom calls “a barrel of joy” was already renewed for a third season ahead of its June 25th premiere. This would indicate that audiences, much like the Hamilton star, have fallen in love with what was once considered the show’s riskiest proposition. “Josh had an idea to do this musical animated series—not something that had musical elements every now and again or might do a musical number every couple of episodes. He wanted three or four songs, every show,” says Odom.

Central ParkApple TV+The gamble paid off, the risk all but eliminated by having the likes of Sara Bareilles, Fiona Apple, Meghan Trainor, Cyndi Lauper, Alan Menken and Darren Criss contribute to the show’s catchy musical offerings. “Once those musical numbers start, they carry you a long way,” says Odom. “So [in season two], the double-down is in the music.”

This time around it is Regina Spektor, Ingrid Michaelson, Rufus Wainwright, Michael Bublé and Shaggy, among others, who get to show off their earworm-writing skills. But that is not where the surprises end for viewers invested in the Tillerman family’s adventures. “We meet Owen’s mother for the first time and that was great fun, seeing what that relationship was and who had a hand in creating this guy that I love so much,” says Odom. “I’m excited for people to see that episode and find out the Hollywood legend that voices Owen’s mother. That’s going to be a real treat.”

Whether the Tillerman matriarch is voiced by Patti LuPone or Jennifer Lewis, who have both been confirmed as upcoming guest stars alongside Billy Porter, Ellie Kemper, Dan Stevens and CNN’s Don Lemon, these living legends will not be cementing their new family ties with hugs. All the voice work, duets included, is recorded from home. “Every now and again, before the pandemic, I might have worked with Josh,” says Odom. “But in the pandemic, it really was a siloed thing, which is not as solitary as it sounds, because you’re working with the showrunners and Josh is usually on the line.”

Central ParkApple TV+The fact that the series was already set up for remote work put them one step ahead when COVID halted most TV productions in the spring of 2020. “It’s not lost on us that while so much of the business has been at a standstill, we got to create through the pandemic and we got to return to this joyful and ridiculous world, week in, week out, at a time when we really needed it to,” he says. “It was really nice to have this kind of distraction.”

Even with the biggest effects of the pandemic starting to taper off, the fact that the cast can turn in their performances while on the road, allows the show to maintain its stellar cast. “These are also some of the busiest people in the business,” says Odom. “You’re talking about Kathryn Hahn and Daveed Diggs and Stanley Tucci—come on, he’s eating food all around the world right now [in his CNN travelogue]! If you needed all of us to be together in a room, we’d never get the thing done.”

Joining the cast in the second season is The Umbrella Academy’s Emmy Raver-Lampman, who takes over the role of Owen’s daughter Molly Tillerman from Kristen Bell. Bell decided to step aside from the role following season one, allowing for the mixed-race character to be portrayed by a Black or mixed-race actress. Odom was quick to congratulate Raver-Lampman, his former Hamilton castmate, who is also the life partner of Central Park and Hamilton co-star Diggs. “I welcomed Emmy and I talked to Kristen too, and thanked her for her grace,” says Odom, adding jokingly. “I think Kristen’s got a bright future ahead of her. But I welcomed my new baby girl, for sure.” (That said, Bell isn’t gone from the show, taking on a new character in season two.)

Central ParkApple TV+While New York City has gone through some tribulations in the past year, the animated version is like coming home to a warm embrace. “When I think about my favourite long-running animated shows, there’s something comforting in the way, from decade to decade, they don’t really change. They find the variety in their single-mindedness,” says Odom. “But what does change is the confidence of the creators. I think you will find, from season one to season two, a more confident group of collaborators. We had moments of real magic in season one and we try to multiply that. We’re greedy in that way.”

Central Park streams Fridays on Apple TV+