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Friday, 25 September 2015

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!