Classical Pop Star Proves True Talent Can Rise to Top
April 26, 2004
By Howard Cohen
Josh Groban enraptures a sold-out crowd in Miami Beach with his titanic vocals and easy-going charm.
On his two top-selling CDs, classical pop star Josh Groban confronts grandiose production. The 23-year-old ''popera'' singer from Los Angeles has a scrumptious voice, able to sink into a rich baritone and soar to an expressive tenor. He leaps half notes with ease, too. He's arguably the finest singer of his generation.
But with all the sonic ornamentation surrounding him, it's akin to plastering ''My child made the honor roll'' bumper stickers all over the back of a Rolls.
In concert Saturday night at Miami Beach's Jackie Gleason Theater before a sold-out, all-ages, vocal audience, these flaws were not quite so pronounced despite staging that included a video screen flashing swelling waves in a perfect storm climax during the opening Oceano.
There were also some 15 musicians (including a string section) flanking the singer, and let's not forget Groban's predilection for the kind of gushy pop Celine Dion drives critics nuts with like You Raise Me Up, which came complete with a choir, and the overarranged My December.
Get beyond the trappings, however, and Groban, who has the vocal dexterity to cut through the thickest musical accompaniment as if it were mere eiderdown, proved to be a delightful live entertainer, a star graced with an unassuming charm and an eager-to-please demeanor that led him to perform three encores to satisfy fans who did not want to let him leave the stage after two hours -- which included an unnecessary 30-minute intermission. (Note to star: pop concerts do not need intermissions, especially coming only 45 minutes into the first set). It was concert-making la last Lord of the Rings movie. Just when you were sure the house lights would click on, there was Groban again, another false ending. He finally closed the show with one of the night's most appealing performances by sitting solo at the piano and offering a simple rendition of the 1968 Simon & Garfunkel classic America.
The timbre of Groban's voice proved best suited to the Italian songs he selected, such as Oceano, Alla Luce Del Sole and Mi Mancherai (Il Postino), but he also handled Spanish (Alejate) and English with aplomb despite having a sore throat. Hints of the ailment arose sporadically when he'd struggle a bit on tunes like To Where You Are. His best performance in his native tongue, however, was the dramatic Remember When It Rained, a commercial pop tune he cowrote.
Groban was almost upstaged by his concertmaster and violin soloist, barefoot lady in red Lucia Micarelli. He allowed Micarelli a showcase of her own where she earned a standing ovation for her sizzling sprint through Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody.
Overall, Groban proved that true talent can rise to the top in an industry that tends to lavish praise on undeserving pop stars of the micromoment. That he comes across unaffected is an even bigger bonus.