If you’re not laughing at a Josh Groban concert, you’re not doing it right.
Certainly, the 35-year-old opera-style warbler quickly commands a crowd. He strode onto the stage of Greensboro’s White Oak Amphitheatre Tuesday with a spellbinding opener: “Pure Imagination,” from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and his latest musical-theater-inspired album, “Stages.”
But he was just as quick to drop the aura of sophistication and goof off with his fans. Shortly after his last wave of vibrato dissipated in the violet-lighted mist after that first song, he blurted out: “It was warmer than a rhino in a spacesuit today.”
Groban clarified that he’s been playing indoors – like a kid – on his recent world tour and was clearly giddy to escape the enclosure of theaters and arenas for this concert. Although, he admitted his geographical shift to the South required a bit of an adjustment.
But he made it work – he turned on an exaggerated Southern accent and reenacted a meet-and-greet moment during which a female fan begged to grope him.
He slipped back into song momentarily with “Try to Remember” from “The Fantasticks,” before falling to his knees on the edge of the stage, head thrown back, hair streaming in the machine-generated wind. “I feel very Fabio in the ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter’ commercial,” he said.
Groban was in storytelling mode all night, sharing his anecdotes from his time in school and his childhood in Los Angeles, impersonating people from his past, including his own higher-pitched, pre-celebrity-status, soprano self from the seventh grade.
It was almost as if he was rehearsing for the Broadway debut he’s set to make this fall as Pierre in the musical “Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812,” based on Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace.”
But just because he has yet to act and sing on that kind of New York stage doesn’t mean he’s not ready now. And it doesn’t mean he hasn’t been through transformation before.
“You guys, I was a shy, really weird, kind of nervous kid,” he said. “Now I’m a not-shy, weird, nervous adult. But when I was young, I was kind of what they call a late bloomer.”
It’s hard to imagine. Because on that Greensboro stage, he bloomed.
He took on the role of French empathizer and soulfully belted out “Le Temps Des Cathédrales” from “Notre-Dame de Paris” to honor France, following the recent tragedy in Nice.
He stepped into the vibe of a band he likes, Snow Patrol, with a cover of “Run.”
And he struck the zenith of his performance with a new composition concocted for his upcoming starring role in the Broadway sphere: “Dust and Ashes.” The six-minute song was just released on Spotify on July 15, for the start of his summer tour.
Groban, who’s cultivating a curly beard and learning to play the accordion for his role as Pierre, snapped right into character. Across those six minutes, his voice was no longer simply blooming – it erupted.
There was no trace of shyness left in Groban. Nor in his audience members, for that matter.
Before his encore, the sounds of his hit “You Raise Me Up” began and he said to his fans, regardless of race, gender, creed or sexual orientation, “We celebrate everyone … Please sing along.”
And, backed by Greensboro’s city orchestra, they did.