Wondering what will happen when Josh Groban and Idina Menzel bring their unique vocal fireworks to a stage near you?
Let’s face it, going to a live concert can be a hassle. Between getting there, navigating the crowds and sitting through opening acts, you’re usually looking at a considerable wait before the headliner performs. But there are some performers who are so good that by the time they sing that first note, you realize that it was all worthwhile.
Josh Groban is one of those performers, especially for Grobanites (like me) who’ve been following him since he first appeared as the super-nerd with Pavarotti pipes on Ally McBeal on May 21, 2001. To Grobanites, it’s an historic date, not to be forgotten. Over the past 17 years, we’ve watched him grow up before our eyes, exceeding any expectation we may have had. There’s something about his unassuming nature that makes his commanding voice even more extraordinary. It’s easy to forget that his easygoing and humble manner belie a voice that puts him in rarefied company with the likes of other premier vocalists who he’s partnered with including Andrea Bocelli, Celine Dion and la Streisand herself.
And so it was on a recent Saturday night at the Los Angeles Forum that he took the stage to promote his new album Bridges. Idina Menzel opened, and what a perfect pairing it was: two unabashed theater nerds and powerhouse vocalists. This theater nerd (yours truly) was geeking-out, big time. Idina took the stage right on time (I appreciate punctuality) in a silver sequined pantsuit that shimmered like a disco ball. And yes, Ms. Menzel, I noticed the matching glitter on your eyelashes. Admittedly, I was not as familiar with her body of work as one might assume. I’m one of those rare individuals who’s never seen Wicked (for which Menzel won the Tony) or Frozen. I mainly knew her as Leah Michele’s mom from Glee. But the moment she opened her mouth and started belting, I was all in. She was evidently thrilled to be playing the Forum and made the most of it; she opened with “The Wizard and I” (from Wicked) and segued into a stirring rendition of “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” Menzel was amped and personable throughout her 11-song set, sprinkled with hits from Wicked, Frozen and Rent (the musical that first catapulted her to stardom). Having warmed up the crowd for the main course, Menzel exited the stage to a hug from her son.
Enter Josh Groban
A half-hour later, Groban appeared on a moodily lit stage – scruffy, bespectacled and dressed casually in black jeans and a zippered jacket over a v-neck t-shirt. If I’m being straight up honest, he looked like those clothes might’ve been stuffed in a suitcase and thrown on in a hurry without much thought. But that’s part of what I love about him. If Idina looked like she was ready to play the Las Vegas strip, Josh seemed ready to just hang out. But that was fine with me (and the difference between a Bublé fan and a Grobanite, but I digress). Groban started the concert with several songs from his new album (“Bigger Than Us,” “Won’t Look Back,” “Granted”) sprinkled in with songs from past albums (“You Are Loved,” “Pure Imagination,” “Oceano”). His soaring vocals filled the arena. Nobody does heartfelt, inspirational anthems and ballads quite like him.
They were all delivered with the conviction and gorgeous timbre we’ve come to expect from Groban. What comes across so clearly is that, besides possessing a preternaturally spectacular voice, he is refreshingly down-to-earth and unpretentious. In a word, he’s a mensch. Though he’s a multi-platinum recording artist with several Grammy nominations under his belt, he doesn’t miss an opportunity to pay more than lip service to the arts education that played an instrumental role in his development as an artist. He acknowledged the teachers who nurtured him and whom he credits for his success.
As further evidence of this egalitarian, philanthropic spirit, Josh changed things up midway through, moving to a second stage toward the back of the Forum where he performed a handful of songs for the nosebleeds, giving the high-priced ticket holders a chance to crane their necks or enjoy him via projection screen. He sang a beautiful rendition of Billy Joel’s “She’s Always a Woman” which he had previously performed for none other than its author, when Joel was honored with the uber-prestigious Gershwin Prize in 2014.
Groban brought Menzel back on stage (complete with a more subdued but equally dazzling costume change) for a couple of duets (“Lullaby” and “Falling Slowly,” from the musical Once). Their voices blended beautifully, as you might imagine. He then launched into one of my favorites from his Grammy nominated 2016 Broadway album Stages, “Bring Him Home” from Les Misérables. For a true Grobanite, his performance was akin to a religious experience.
At this point, Josh ran through the crowd, slapping audience members’ hands along the way, where he resumed the concert on the main stage with another song from his new album “Musica del Corazón,” a beautiful Spanish song featuring some amazing guitar work. Josh singled out one of the more personal songs from Bridges called “River” which obliquely touches on his own struggles with anxiety and depression. He then sang “Alla Luce del Sole” (from his first album), followed by “Awake” and then officially finished the night with “You Raise Me Up” backed by the Los Angeles Symphonic Ensemble.
After a perfunctory exit, Josh came back for a two-song encore. Harkening back to his Ally McBeal debut, he sang “To Where You Are,” the song that put him on the map. And I’ll be damned if it didn’t bring me to tears. He then launched into a gorgeous, full-tilt rendition of the title track from Bridges, Paul Simon’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Though Groban maintains a pretty low profile with his political views, he lamented the divisiveness of our current political climate – calling it unlike anything he’s ever experienced in his lifetime. He acknowledged the healing power of music and said that, as a musician, he felt it’s his responsibility to provide that. “We need more bridges, less walls,” he added. Amen to that.
The pair’s U.S. tour wraps up November 18 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, after which Josh continues on to Europe. Tickets and more info are available online.
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Last modified: October 21, 2019