It Was A Classic Case of Adulation, Applause
April 20, 2004
By Matthew J. Palm
Pity the performers in the classical crossover genre when they put on a show.
The songs aren't suited for a stage full of scantily clad dancers. There's really no place for an audience sing-along. And Italian songs of lost love generally don't inspire pyrotechnics.
What can a singer do to hold an audience's attention?
Luckily for Josh Groban, he has his voice.
And that resonant voice was in fine shape during a sold-out show at Melbourne's King Center on Sunday night.
Groban rolled through tracks from his two albums, such as "To Where You Are," made famous by his appearance on Ally McBeal, and "Un Amore Per Sempre," one of his trademark foreign-language ballads.
But even with song titles such as "Alla Luce Del Sole" on the playlist, the performance had the air of a teen heartthrob's concert. On sale in the lobby: everything from $5 keychains to $55 sweatshirts.
During the performance of "Vincent," a section of the audience used light-up pens like glowsticks, waving them rhythmically.
And then there were the catcalls: "Marry me!" "I love you!"
In an audience that contained a large contingent of women from age 22 to the far side of 62, it wasn't just the twentysomethings doing the wolf whistles.
Groban, 23, responded to the adulation with good humor. After four women brought him flowers, he cracked to his band, "That's a record for flowers in one show."
When a determined audience member called out "I want you!" he pretended to unbutton his shirt, then immediately broke out in a sheepish laugh.
With his mop of unruly hair and skinny frame, Groban doesn't much fit the hunky singer image. But the audience responded to his aw-shucks charm, the sense that he's a high-school science-club geek who's now more successful than the cool kids from the football team.
The audience applauded when his shadow appeared in a lighting effect. They applauded when he climbed a staircase. When he announced his next song would be performed in Spanish . . . more clapping. "This is the only show where 'Spanish' got a round of applause," he teased the audience. "Let me think of another word -- bananas!" Yes, "bananas" received a round of applause too.
In between the love, he did sing, ably backed by a band -- drummer, keyboardist, guitarists -- on one side of the stage and a mini-orchestra of about a dozen musicians on the other.
Concertmaster Lucia Micarelli, strutting around the stage barefoot, was a force to be reckoned with. Her violin provided a lovely counterpoint to Groban's vocals on "Mi Mancherai." Her own fiery solo -- which included a bit of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" -- drew a standing ovation from the crowd.
Groban took advantage of Micarelli's solo to change costume -- from a black button-down shirt and jeans to a white button-down shirt and jeans. Cher, he's not.
His simple clothes did make the vivid stage lighting more effective, if perhaps a little obvious. Red lights for passion, blue for sadness; we get it.
A large videoscreen covered the stage's back wall and provided some visual diversion, most of it effective. Footage of rolling waves and billowing clouds made a dramatic backdrop for the opening "Oceano." But a disembodied head that appeared on the screen during "My Confession" was on the creepy side.
The stage's two staircases got a workout as Groban gamely ascended and descended, pausing for dramatic effect when the songs dictated. He closed his 40-minute first act by singing "Let Me Fall" and then falling off a bridge at the back of the stage into blackness, a trick used on his PBS concert.
The hourlong second set closed with Groban's hit "You Raise Me Up," which he performed at this year's Super Bowl. Before the final note had died away, the audience was on its feet.
Groban returned -- "Thanks, you guys are sweet, you guys are amazing" -- and gave a powerful performance of "Per Te" from his Closer album.
Then, he sat at the piano, alone on stage, and accompanied himself singing "America," an old Simon and Garfunkel song. A curious choice for a finale, but it showed that in the end, what really mattered was that voice.