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Friday, 25 September 2015

Over The Rainbow with Josh Groban Part 2

If you read the blog this one is linked to, then you will know this is an account of my second night seeing Josh Groban. (If you haven't read the first one, click here to read it.) But this time, I'd splurged even more on my ticket than I had for the first show. This time, I had snagged a 5th row seat. Make that, a 5th row, just right of centre, seat. While I was walking down the aisle to my seat, the closer I got, the more excited and giddy I became. I had looked up my seat on the Sony Centre seating chart a few days earlier, but it hadn't registered just how close I really was. It certainly registered when I located my seat!


Before getting into the theatre, I stopped by the merchandise table and picked up a t-shirt and tote bag. I really wanted to add the zip-up hoodie to my purchase, but I'd already taken a financial hit when I purchased my ticket to the second show. So, with my merchandise, I entered the theatre and found my seat. That seat was next to a woman whom, while exchanging Josh-related small-talk with, I thought looked familiar. After a moment, I realized that I remembered her profile picture from a brief Facebook conversation I'd had with her on Livenation's post about Josh's concerts. I had commented that I was going to both shows and was super excited. She answered that she too was going to both and had won a meet and greet for one of them. I made another quick reply to congratulate her on being able to meet Josh, and that was it. I never thought I'd end up sitting next to her at the show. And, because of this, I know have a fellow Grobanite for a friend! I met another one after the show as well, so I now have two!... As well as about half a dozen other followers on Twitter due to Josh retweeting my tweet to him, then replying to it, and then favouriting my reply back to him back in March. I touched on that on the last post, but I guess I should go into a bit more detail about it now...

I sent Josh a tweet at 5:44pm on March 21 shortly after getting home from work. My tweet went as follows:
Hey, @joshgroban, ever think about doing an album of Broadway songs? I think it would be fantastic! (And ty for the music on my commute!) At 5:45pm, I got a reply from the man himself: @JenCathryne I did it!! Comes out April 28! Thank you too! Well, I couldn't let that go without replying. @joshgroban Really? That's awesome! I will be first in line to buy it! And thanks for the fast reply! You made my day! (He really did.) And then!... Josh favourited my reply back to him!

The conversation with Josh

Highlighing Josh's favourite.

Well, my twitter promptly blew up after that with Josh's reply, retweet, favourite, and the retweets from fellow fans... And after all that, I realized that, I had known he'd had Stages in the works since late 2014, but with the recent trauma my mother and I had been through a month prior, I'd completely forgotten. But, that brief exchange made me feel important when I really needed to, and gave me the smile I needed to get through the rest of my evening. I only hope he realizes just how much that tiny Twitter exchange meant to me. I also hope he realizes how much taking that photo with me after the first concert meant. He truly is a remarkably special person and I hope he knows that.

Anyway, back to the concert!

So, shortly after adding my new-found Grobanite friend to Facebook (and later to Twitter), and chatting about our personal experiences with Josh (virtual and otherwise), the house lights dimmed. Just like the night before, he was about 5 or 10 minutes late starting. But again, musicians are never on time!

The first half of the set list, musically, was the same:
Pure Imagination, Try To Remember, What I Did For Love, Old Devil Moon, All I Ask Of You (with Lena Hall), Save Me (Lena Hall), Finishing The Hat, and Anthem. The numbers may have been the same, but the interactions with the audience were much different. Josh seemed much more laid back this time and he found himself going off on several more tangents than he had the night before. (He managed to bring it back though.) The Viagara Centre for the Performing Arts joke was in there, but the You Raise Me Up quip wasn't. But he impressed us with his knowledge of a bit of history of The Sony Centre (it was called the O'Keefe Centre when it first opened in 1960). He also touched on his three day stay in Toronto, and proved able to keep track of the events happening in the city. The Blue Jays were playing at the Rogers Centre at the same time as the concert, and Josh, after joking that many in the audience would be checking their phones for score updates, offered to give us said score updates. "My guys can check the score for you! If they're winning, I'll tell you. If they're not, we'll just continue right along!"


Having a chat with us.

Before moving on to Try To Remember, he asked how many of us had been to the previous night's show. My new friend and I cheered, but a group of maybe four or five sitting in the first couple of rows to the left of centre stage were who he heard best. He very quickly poked fun at them, suggesting a Plexiglas box be set up between them and him. The girls took it in stride, and the audience had a good laugh at the expense of both the fans and Josh.


The second half of the show was a bit different. After Children Will Listen/Not While I'm Around and Le Temps Des Cathédrales, he changed the set a bit with a song he had not yet done on tour. Before the show, he took to Twitter to poll those going to the second Toronto show for what song they would rather hear: Dulcinea from Man From La Mancha, or If I Can't Love Her from Beauty and the Beast. I partook in the poll and voted for If I Can't Love Her I couldn't wait to find out which tune won. In my excitement, I videoed the performance and purposely included his introduction to it. I'm glad I did!


"We're going to change things up a little bit because--" he said; he was cut off by an audible gasp came from the group he had poked fun at earlier, and he immediately stopped. "Careful... easy!" He said. Then, he turned to the audience to let them in on what happened. "I heard an ear-gasm from the corner right here.” He motioned to the section the girls were in. Then he continued. “So, we wanted to throw in a song we haven't done yet on the tour because this is our second night here, and so, this is a song that...” He stopped to backpedal a bit to let the rest of the audience in on what had happened earlier in the evening. “I actually asked on Twitter, which would you like to hear, and I gave two choices, and they kind of, unanimously picked one... And this is a song from the musical, Beauty And The Beast--” At this point, those who partook in the poll, myself included, cheered. But, the girls in the corner were louder. This cheer stopped Josh, literally, in his tracks. “Alright...” When he got through laughing, he turned to us with a thought. “Maybe it was just four people on Twitter with twenty different aliases...I'm just realizing that.” At that, my new friend then called out, "Five!" I chimed in with, "Six!" He gathered himself, and introduced the song, explaining it was one that Alan Menken wrote specifically for the stage production. Before beginning it though, he chuckled and said, "I was going to take a little rest song here, but instead, I'm going to sing a really hard one for you!"


The song, as well as Dulcinea are available on the Target Exclusive Stages album, a version I do not own. (I have the standard version and the Deluxe version that includes two bonus tracks.) However, I have heard his version of this beautiful, romantic, sad song, and knew the audience was in for a real treat. And what a treat it was. The video I took of it is one I will cherish for a long time. I guffaw every time I watch the first minute or so of it.


If I Loved You (with Lena Hall), Maybe I'm Amazed (Lena Hall solo), Bring Him Home, and You'll Never Walk Alone closed out the show, with Somewhere Over The Rainbow being the encore once again. I recorded You'll Never Walk Alone and Somewhere Over The Rainbow. I also recorded Anthem as it's my favourite song from the musical, Chess. Bring Him Home had me in tears – watching Josh sing it and react to, not only the applause he received upon singing, "God on high", but the energy in the room was a real treat and gave the song so much more feeling.


The experience of the second concert, for me, was far superior to the first. I believe it was, in part, due to the better vantage point I had (the two seats in front of me and my new friend were empty – bad for Josh, but good for us). I also found someone to enjoy the concert with, someone I could share my Josh experiences with, someone who understood why I'm so enamoured with and by him because they are too. Being able to watch the feeling he had with each song, to watch him listen to those who accompanied him, to watch him react to us, to be a part of the interactions he had with the audience, and to be part of his Twitter poll... it was all worth the price I paid for that ticket. Being a part of the Twitter poll made If I Can't Love Her just that extra little bit more special. Making the audience feel at ease and like they're sitting in a cozy living room is something Josh does well and it made for a beautiful and memorable evening.

Listening to him tell us how much the Arts means to him and how much it influenced and changed his life made me feel a bit closer to him. The Arts have influenced my life in more ways than one and have given me experiences that have shaped my life; experiences I will never forget. I was in my schools' extra-curricular band classes – I played the Clarinet in elementary and then moved on to the Oboe during Junior High (I taught myself to play), and was the only Oboe player in my entire high school for the four years I was there. My grandmother taught me how to play her electric organ, and though I'm not very good, I can pluck out a tune on the piano. My aunt gave me my grandfather's old acoustic guitar, and I taught myself to play it when I was a teenager. I was swept away to Oz by a twister when I was 12 in my elementary school's production of, The Wizard of Oz. I toured a play to forty Toronto area middle schools in thirty days and performed that show at the Tarragon and Harbourfront Theatres while in a drama co-op course in my final semester of high school. I went to Sheridan College for a Performing Arts course. Unfortunately, life got in the way of my dreams, (and I wasn't a very good actress) but the experiences I had will never be forgotten, and have helped me in my writing. I can't count how many times I've stood from my chair to physically block a scene I am writing, or to get into my characters' heads during an exchange of dialogue. I attend karaoke fairly regularly and love being swept away by the music I sing and listen to. Without my grandmother, my aunt - and by extension, my grandfather -, the teachers who took the time out of their busy schedules to write and direct the school plays... without my high school drama teacher and college professors who taught and encouraged me to take risks... without my keyboard and band teachers who understood (and tested) my limits... without my English teachers, and my Writer's Craft teacher, who encouraged me to keep writing and who took the time to read whatever silly story I was working on outside of class and give me advice and help... Without the Arts kids and writers in my circle of friends who understand the motions I go through when writing... Without any of those people, and without the Arts programs in my schools, my life would have been shaped much differently. There's no telling where I may have ended up.


For the reasons stated above, Josh's Find Your Light Foundation is something that means a lot and helps fund Arts programs in the US and in Canada. The Arts shape all of us and give us a means to express ourselves creatively. That can make or break us. It can make a whole world of difference. It has for me. If you can, stop by the Foundation's website and see for yourself what good has come out of it and how Josh has been giving back to the very thing that started him on the path he is on now.


Remember when I said that I believe that things happen for a reason? I also said that belief has been shaken by things that have happened recently – deaths, personal injury, negativity - and dealing with the affects of those things. Well, after seven months of what I can only truly describe as sadness, fear, and uncertainty, I have had two nights where things fell into place that needed to. Yes, I spent a lot on my ticket to the first concert. But, I met the amazing, Josh Groban at the stage door and got a photograph with him that his security guy tried to refuse. And, yes, I took a major financial hit when I purchased my ticket to the second concert, but I met a fellow Grobanite, and I had an unobstructed view of everything happening on stage. I took four great videos (two of which are being sent to a member of the Victor Singers on their request). I laughed and I cried. I had a great time, and it has been a very long time since I have been as happy--no-- as elated as I am right now. (That elation has continued, in part, due to one of tweets to him on Thursday, the 24th, being favourited by him.) I have two whims, my new Grobanite, and Josh to thank for that. So, the next time he's in town, I will be in in the audience as close to the stage as I can get for my next dose of Josh Groban related happiness.


To learn more about, or donate to, Find Your Light, check out: Find Your Light Foundation

Over The Rainbow with Josh Groban Part 1

I've stated few times before that I am a believer in things happening for a reason, even if we don't ever understand what those reasons are. Over this past year, that belief has been shaken in a million and one ways. I almost wasn't sure if I could continue believing in it. But, then there are moments, no matter how brief, that renew my faith. The experiences I've had over the past two days are those moments.

Back in May, I purchased a ticket to see Josh Groban live in Toronto on September 21st at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts. The seat was back row orchestra, but I was going to see an artist who has inspired me and given me goosebumps with his voice since I was 13. I've always wanted to see him perform, but never had. Until I bought my ticket. Then, on September 9th, I thought, "I wonder if there are still tickets available for the second show..." The second show was added due to overwhelming demand for tickets and from fans. Well, I missed 3rd row by a matter of two or three hours, but I managed to snag a fifth row, just right of centre seat. I would be seeing Josh Groban two nights in a row, and I didn't care if the set lists would be virtually identical. I was going to be listening to his voice organically as he sang, separated only by a microphone, soundboard and speakers. A dream was coming true.

So, after waiting with immense anticipation, September 21st finally rolled around. I arrived at the theatre, found my seat (back row, aisle, three seats away from the soundboard), and at 8:05pm (he was five minutes late – but then again, musicians never start on time), the house lights went down. The stage was simply dressed with empty picture frames on the back curtain, five trees evenly spaced across the stage, a black grand piano, a bookshelf, complete with books behind the piano, and a small orchestra. The orchestra was from Toronto, which, coupled with the simple stage design, made the show feel quite intimate and personal in many ways.

After a short musical intro, Josh Groban walked out on stage to nothing short of thunderous applause and cheering. A lone stage light shone above him as he began to sing, Pure Imagination from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. After the song, he thanked us for welcoming him back to Toronto and to the Sony Centre. In typical Josh Groban fashion, he added (and I'm paraphrasing, as I can't remember what he said verbatum), "This is still the Sony Centre right?... Oh good. It's happened before where a theatre has changed it's name, and then someone down front goes, 'Uh, no; it's the Viagara Centre for Performing Arts... Could you sing, You Raise Me Up?'" Needless to say, he had the audience laughing, not just then, but several times throughout the show. Next was a song that started out as a musical number but has become an old standard – Try to Remember from The Fantasticks. What I Did For Love from A Chorus Line followed, and was itself followed by Old Devil Moon from Finian's Rainbow. Throughout the song, an image of a fiery moon was displayed on a sheer curtain that came down for a few songs over the course of the show. During Old Devil Moon, Josh featured a trumpet player – whose name I have forgotten – who was from Toronto. Good lord my city is talented!


The trumpeter accompanying Josh on Old Devil Moon.

We were in for a real treat with the next two songs. Touring with Josh is the extraordinarily wonderful, Lena Hall. Together, they sang, All I Ask Of You from Phantom of the Opera, a show I've listened to many times but have yet to see on stage. I hope to see it when it comes to town in December. The pair did the song justice, and watching them sing it with the passion they did made the song so much more beautiful. Upon the end of All I Ask Of You, Josh left the stage and Lena performed a solo, a cover of Freddie Mercury's, Save Me. She joined Josh's tour in part to promote her album which comes out September 28. I think I just might have to buy myself a copy. When she sings, it's like Janis Joplin meets Idina Menzel. It's just so powerful and beautiful.

Josh Groban and Lena Hall

Josh Groban returned to the stage and was joined by a copy of Georges Seurat's famous painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Gratte Jatte. After an introduction, which involved the mention of the VHS recording of A Sunday In The Park With George, Josh began a song that is quickly becoming one of my favourite theatre songs, Finishing The Hat. It is a song about an artist's sacrifice of the love of a woman for the love of his art. It's a song I find myself relating, very much, to. I am an aspiring writer, and there have been times when I have sacrificed an afternoon at my aunt's for the sake of finishing a chapter, ironing out a blooming idea, or trying to fix the mess my trilogy has recently become. As artists, regardless of the relationships we hold dear, there is always a part of us, “mapping out the sky... Finishing a hat...”

Josh and the Toronto orchestra

He closed out the first act with one of my favourite Broadway tunes ever, Anthem from, Chess. Chess is one of those shows that has amazing music, but remains, in many ways, unfinished due to the consistently differing endings. I believe that, one day, it will find it's place, but until then, the score will forever be one of my favourites to listen to.

After a fifteen minute intermission, during which I stayed in my seat, Josh Groban returned. He sat on a stool in the middle of the stage with the sheer curtain behind him to sing a medley of Children Will Listen from Into The Woods and Not While I'm Around from Sweeney Todd. Between this tune and the next one, he discussed theatre and that there are some pieces of music that should never leave their native languages. I am, in many ways, inclined to agree. There is a poetry that can only be achieved when the song is sung in the intended language. Le Temps Des Cathédrales from Notre Dame De Paris is one of them. The show was written in Canada, in Quebec, and became a hit in France.

Before his next song, he walked over to a black, unmarked cup that had been left on stage for him and said, “Let me take a sip out of this unmarked, ominous looking cup.” He did. “Mmm, Absenthe! Nice! They surprise me with something different every night!” After a very passable drunkard impersonation, and a Scooby Doo reference, he centred himself for the next song. This one was one he didn't record, but has always loved. After poking some fun at Antonio Banderas, he sang, Unusual Way from the show, Nine, which stared Banderas.

Lena Hall returned to perform If I Loved You from Carousel with Josh, and to perform another solo. This time, it was The Beatles', Maybe I'm Amazed. Who'd have thought we'd be listening to a Beatles tune at a Josh Groban show?

Lena Hall

When Josh returned, he sang a song that needs absolutely no introduction whatsoever. The first three words of, Bring Him Home from Les Miserables was met with gratuitous applause. Sung live, there is a passion that doesn't quite resonate on the album recording. Perhaps it was because of the audience's reaction or the energy in the room. I don't know what it was, but it was more beautiful listening to it organically than it is on the album, though it is, and always will be, one of my favourites from Stages. The Toronto Victor Singers joined him on stage again for a powerfully beautiful rendition of You'll Never Walk Alone from Carousel. It finished to thunderous applause and a standing ovation.

The encore was a song that is very personal for me in many ways. Because of this, it was a song I was, regrettably, on the fence about on the album. However, after hearing it live, I have fallen in love with it. The song was, Somewhere Over The Rainbow from the film, The Wizard Of Oz. Though it's, technically, not a song that originated on stage, it was the one song he knew he could cheat on when making the album. Like I mentioned with Bring Him Home, there was a feeling when he sang this song that I may have missed on the album due to how personal the song is for me. The Wizard of Oz is my favourite movie of all time, and I even got to portray Dorothy in my elementary school's production of it. Over The Rainbow has since become a very personal song for me, and one that, for me, needs to be sung with caution and brilliance. Well, Josh did not disappoint, and the entire audience was on its feet again.

But, the experience didn't end there. No. I went around to the stage door in the hopes of getting my Stages album leaflet signed, and possibly get a picture. What I really wanted to do was, thank him for a brief Twitter exchange he and I had back in March that gave me the smile I needed to continue my day (it also blew up my twitter for about three hours), but there wasn't enough time. However, I did get a picture. I asked him for a quick one when he got to me. His security guard said, “No, we need to keep moving.” But, Josh quickly responded with, “If you lean in while I'm signing something, I'll look over and we'll do it.” Well, that's exactly what happened.

Me and Josh

Josh Groban is truly an amazing person. On stage, when that voice of his is doing what it does best, he is mind-blowing and can be quite intimidating, but when you see him after the show in a sweatshirt and taking pictures with his fans, he's just Josh. He goes from being this larger than life performer to being the type of person you want to have coffee with, or someone who could be a best friend or the brother mother nature never provided you with. That is something that is truly remarkable, and something I've only experienced once before.

So, (even though you'll never read this) Josh, thank you for the amazing experience, and for being your kind, down-to-earth, witty, nerdy self. When you come back to Toronto, I will be in the audience.

If you want to read about Josh Groban concert #2, click here!