Josh Groban’s ‘Bucket List’
August 14, 2014
By Emily Cary
Epic baritone to bring favorite songs from stage and screen to Wolf Trap this week
Josh Groban’s powerful lyric baritone will resound through Wolf Trap’s Filene Center for two evenings of concerts during his August tour of open-air theaters along the East Coast.
“Rather than wait several years to put on one big show, I believe it’s more important to get out before live audiences whenever possible to satisfy the connections I crave with the public,” Mr. Groban told The Washington Times.
"The program will include some numbers that are old favorites of mine and the fans, but many are from a new album I’m working on that focuses on a ‘bucket list’ of songs I love from stage, screen, Broadway and London’s West End. They’ve been orchestrated to perfection and are tailor-made for bucolic locations.”
During his performances, he exhibits a casual but graceful ease as he segues from standing before a microphone to settling onto a piano bench to accompany himself.
“The piano keyboard is an extension of myself, so I like to play as I sing a song I wrote to better express the thoughts I put into composing the music and lyrics,” he said. “But because I especially enjoy performing with an amazing orchestra, like the one backing me at Wolf Trap, I’ll spend most of the concert standing to capture each moment with the musicians and work the crowd. There’s always unexpected banter between the audience and myself.”
A multitalented singer-songwriter, Mr. Groban, 33, also excels in acting, producing and communicating.
While attending the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, he caught the attention of major record producers. In a moment that he still recalls with awe, he was asked to substitute for an ailing Andrea Bocelli during a Grammy Awards rehearsal with Celine Dion in 1998. The upshot was a rapid ride to fame, beginning with an appearance on Rosie O’Donnell’s long-since-cancelled talk show. Next came a 2001 role on “Ally McBeal,” followed by a Warner Bros. recording contract and his self-titled debut album that zoomed from gold to double platinum.
In the years since, his six multiplatinum albums have been enjoyed by millions of fans. Today he is a welcome guest on major talk shows, an actor on several television series, even a character in the 2014 film “Muppets Most Wanted.” His latest venture is hosting the ABC music competition series “Rising Star.”
Notable venues include the White House, the Vatican, the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo, the Grammy Awards tribute to Luciano Pavarotti, the Concert for Diana at Wembley Stadium in London, the 60th Primetime Emmy Awards and his own PBS special, “Josh Groban in Concert.”
One of his favorite portrayals is of the Russian in the dramatic musical “Chess” at London’s Royal Albert Hall with Idina Menzel and Adam Pascal in 2008. The live concert version by “Chess” composers Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus (half of the Swedish pop quartet ABBA) was televised by PBS and then turned into a DVD and CD.
“Performing in ‘Chess’ was a dream come true,” Mr. Groban said. “It hit all my marks. The work deserves to be known by people everywhere. At first glance, some think the plot of a musical about the game of chess must be dry. The music is anything but dry.
“My own impetus to compose is a buzz that comes during the day and sparks my imagination until I have to get it out, sometimes as a chorus, but always as a melody. I feel like a troubadour as I wonder, ‘What words shall I write that are a literal interpretation of the melody?’
“Sometimes the words put to music seem trite, but a great melody gives the listener an emotion he can’t explain. When I’ve composed a song that satisfies me, I go to one of the extraordinary arrangers I work with to find ways to color the music and give it a unique quality.”
Just as he would leap at performing in another stage musical like “Chess,” so also does Mr. Groban welcome the opportunity to host “Rising Star” and boost young artists before a wide audience. His empathy is reflected in the many charities he champions. Among them are Save the Music, to provide the arts as a universal language for young people worldwide, and Little Kids Rock, whose mission is to promote music education in this country’s public schools and provide instruments for the students.
“One of my favorite things to do is work without a script and be spontaneous,” he said. “That’s why I love being a guest on live talk shows like Kelly Ripa’s. The only preparation she and I did ahead of time was to spend a few minutes going over the day’s newspapers.
“A live concert like the one I’ll perform at Wolf Trap offers another way to be spontaneous. We spend so much time in the studio working on albums that hearing the songs live and watching the audience reaction gives me an appreciation of how they really affect others.”