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Josh Groban talks Broadway, 'Saturday Night Live,' blending music and humor and more

Josh Groban

James Dimmock

Josh Groban

24

February

Josh Groban needs to host Saturday Night Live.

He’s handsome, popular, funny, a good actor and, lest we forget, one of the most powerful singers on the planet. He’d be perfect. This needs to happen.

So why hasn’t it happened?

“I’m not entirely sure Lorne Michaels knows who I am,” Groban laughed by phone from Los Angeles. “I’ve done some funny things, and I think I’d be great at it, don’t get me wrong — it’d be a lifelong dream to do it, and I think I could crush it. But I also am a realist. I don’t think I’m on his radar. But hey, send him a copy of this article, and we’ll take it from there.”

You hear that, Lorne? Groban’s ready, willing and able. Pick up the phone.

But if you want him, you’d better act fast.

The renowned classical-pop tenor is in high demand these days, from Hollywood to New York and plenty of cities in between. He’s on tour now, supporting his Grammy-nominated album Stages, a collection of songs from Broadway, in theaters much smaller than the arenas he’s used to. This fall, for the first time, he’ll head to Broadway himself in the musical Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812. And at some point, you’ll be able to see him in The Hollars, a film directed by John Krasinski that just premiered at Sundance.

Before all that, he’ll sing at a sold-out Ruth Eckerd Hall on Tuesday. Here, he talks about musical theater, comedy and more.

The last couple of times you’ve come to Tampa, you’ve headlined arenas. This time you’re playing a 2,200-seat theater. Why the change?

It’s because the Stages record is music that I feel was meant to be on more theatrical stages. These are songs that I grew up with, seeing them on Broadway, seeing them in beautiful old theaters in Los Angeles. And these are songs that I think have a lot of storytelling involved — not only within the songs themselves, but between songs, there’s a lot of story to tell the audience, about where these songs come from in my life, and why they mean so much to me. It feels like kind of an intimate show. And so when we decided to set out on this tour, we said to ourselves, let’s make this a little bit more of an intimate experience. To be able to sing these songs in some of these beautiful theaters has been really, really rewarding. I prefer it.

Putting aside the music in this particular show, have you ever thought about radically reworking your shows so that there’s more audience interaction, more stories, more multimedia, some comedy — something that blends your non-singing personality with your singing personality?

That stuff all kind of started to happen by accident. Now, the shows have a little bit of all those things. But back when I first started, I was much more stiff about what I felt I could and couldn’t do on stage, because I knew that the songs felt a certain way. The songs were a certain style. And so I felt I had to stick to that style, because I was inexperienced at that point as a stage performer.

And then I started doing weird, silly things outside of that. I would hang out with my friends, and they would be like, 'Oh my god, where’s this weirdo coming from? We see you staring back at us from a billboard, and we just assume that’s you all the time now.’ And so I kind of started doing more risky performances. I did a little tour where I went out with just a piano and a guitar with no setlist, and I just said to myself, 'I’m just gonna fill the two hours. I’m gonna go out and sing whatever we feel like singing. I’m gonna talk about whatever we feel like talking about.’ I’m thinking this might absolutely bomb, and they were some of the most rewarding shows of my entire career. It wound up being so spontaneous, so fun, and there were so many laughs as well as tears. It only helps me and expands my lane to have all those things out there.

Half my brain is about the seriousness of the music that I make, and the other half of my brain wants to be the absolute opposite of that. It’s okay to have a little bit of schizophrenia out there, I think.

As your live performance evolves, do you feel like your voice is evolving? Part of that is probably by necessity — you’re not singing opera, you’re singing show tunes, maybe a pop song here and there.

Sure. Most of my carer has been primarily original songs. It’s kind of a combination, because sometimes the songs feel a bit more pop, feel a bit more casual, but my voice has definitely more of a traditional slant to it. It definitely loosens me up as a singer. When you know your audience is looser, you’re looser. If your crowd is not on the same page, it’s not the best feeling in the world. It makes you feel a little bit like a square peg in a round hole.

My career is a weird one. You have a lot of people coming into my show, and some people think I’m one thing, and other people think I’m another thing. Some people have pre-conceived notions, and some people have seen interviews that I’ve done. Sometimes you get an audience that’s all there for you, but you’re not exactly sure which 'you’ they’re there for. From a performance standpoint, that’s my job, to make sure that the concert sets the right tone from moment one, and that everybody’s there to have a great time.

Can you sense an audience sitting up and leaning forward as you go back and forth between those two personalities?

I think that what they realize is there’s both of those sides to most people in general. If you can sing a super-serious song that has an anecdote beforehand that’s totally not serious, then it brings out the more realistic side of what it is we all go through in our lives. You can’t do the same thing all the time. If you’re just doing that one giant firework 20 times a night, you’re gonna get numb.

Have these more intimate shows informed your preparation for Broadway?

It’s a really great stepping stone for me to finally take on a role, and one in a show that I’ve wanted to tackle for many years. I was waiting for this show to finally get a shot at Broadway, and I’m so glad that it has it now.

One of the things I loved about the new show I’m doing in the fall is it’s a bit more experimental. The music is lush and gorgeous, and also, I think a little more contemporary, maybe a little more challenging. So part of me says there are things that are going to prepare me, and part of me says that I’m honored for the chance to do something that I’ve never done before. And there’s a lot of things that I know there is no preparation (for), except just work, work, work work and get yourself ready.

This is definitely the show that’s gonna knock Hamilton from its throne, right?

(laughs) I wouldn’t venture to say anything can knock Hamilton from its throne. It’s a once-in-a-generation show. It’s opening up a door for lots of new fresh compositions on Broadway, which is absolutely needed.

How hungry are you to do more film acting?

I’m always hungry to do stuff that I love with people that I love. When it comes to taking extra time to do acting work, it primarily has been very organic. People I know have called me and said, 'There’s something we think would be really right for you; would you take a look at it?’ So I’m going to keep that going. As long as people envision me in their roles, I’d love to do more. It’s part of what I was hoping I’d be able to accomplish at this point in my career, so it’s nice to see that more of that is happening. I wouldn’t say I’m super thirsty for it, but when it happens, it’s certainly a nice addition, a nice surprise.

-- Jay Cridlin

[Last modified: Friday, February 19, 2016 1:47pm]

    

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