Opera is beautiful. Pop music centered on showcasing the vocal range of ex-Mouseketeers is campy. When the two get together, what strange bedfellows they make.
Andrew Lloyd Webber, what have you done? The king of musicals’ melodramatic genre may have been trapped inside of theatres in London’s West End and on Broadway for years, but it’s broken way out as a vehicle for classically influenced pop stars.
At 23, Josh Groban is the genre’s leading man. Propelled by an acting and singing appearance on Ally McBeal in 2001, he has since been Charlotte Church’s singing partner at the closing ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Olympics, the family-friendly portion of the Superbowl pregame, was a requested performer at Oprah’s 50th birthday party and has sold over 5 million records. He is Donny Osmond Giovanni.
At his packed performance at the Ohio Theatre on Monday night, it was hard to focus between the rolls of smoke constantly spilling out from the sides of the stage and a wide screen that sometimes featured projected images like a woman dancing with a fan in a flowy skirt or a moving, abstract gray mass that either looked like an ultrasound or an animated Rorschach test.
But swirling lights weren’t the attraction. The New York Times gave him the Superfriend-ish title “The New Boy Wonder of the Voice.” A woman in the audience put it this way: “You sing, baby!”
Groban shows off his pipes in English, Italian and sometimes Spanish with an incredible range that he makes look effortless. But with romance novel-esque lyrics like “when the setting sun surrenders to the moon, Mi querida, I wait for you,” the songs may be best in whatever language one understands the least. Still, his fans would apparently be happy to hear him sing nursery rhymes in Urdu, as they screamed “I love you Josh” dutifully between songs, and gave him at least four standing ovations. There were audible sniffles during the you-done-me-wrong song, “Broken Vow.”
Perhaps the most charming thing about Groban’s stage presence is the sheer improbability of his status as a romantic figure. His brotherly face is a shock of pale skin against dark hair, and he has the self-conscious carriage and vanilla humor of a young, semi-hip fifth grade teacher. When he spoke, his voice barely resembled the powerful one that had just been shaking the gilded paint off the walls.
“I’m so goofy tonight, I don’t know what it is,” he quipped. “I had a Pixie Stick before the show.”
Groban was backed by a fine band and mini-orchestra, highlighted by violin player, and up-and-coming star Lucia Micarelli. Barefoot and clad in a blazing red dress, she was given a few chances to play solo to great applause, including an annotated version of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
(A version of this story originally appeared in the Columbus Dispatch in April, 2004.)
These stories are © Tracy Zollinger Turner, and cannot be reprinted without her express, written permission.