Josh Groban during the 2018 "Bridges" tour at The Forum on Oct. 27 (Ashley Ramynke / L.A. Times College Insider)

Arts and Entertainment

Concert Review: Josh Groban uses musical genius and comedic charm to advocate social change

Josh Groban has established himself as a leading contemporary musical artist with tens of millions of record sold over a duration of eight studio albums and four live albums. Also an established actor, he recently performed leading roles on Broadway and in a Netflix original series before launching his tour in support of album “Bridges”…
<a href="" target="_self">Ashley Ramynke</a>

Ashley Ramynke

November 26, 2018

Josh Groban has established himself as a leading contemporary musical artist with tens of millions of record sold over a duration of eight studio albums and four live albums. Also an established actor, he recently performed leading roles on Broadway and in a Netflix original series before launching his tour in support of album “Bridges” with special guest Idina Menzel.

Prior to the conclusion of his tour in support of his seventh studio album “Stages,” Groban was casted as Pierre in the Tony Award-winning musical “Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812.” After approximately 300 performances on Broadway, he proceeded to the record his eighth studio album “Bridges.”

“As soon I took my final bow in ‘[Natasha, Pierre & the] Great Comet [of 1812]’ my body, my mind and my voice were exhausted. I said, ‘Okay, time to get into the studio. I have so much to say, I have so much to write,’ and I started working on ‘Bridges,’ Groban said.

“And then like five songs into recording ‘Bridges,’ I got another call from an incredible guy named Andy Breckman, who said, ‘I want you to be the title character on my new show ‘The Good Cop’ on Netflix’ … I play Tony Caruso — Tony Caruso Jr. — goody two-shoes, rule-following, obsessed with the rules. I love this character,” Groban said.

While filming the seventh episode of the series, he was approached to host the 72nd Annual Tony Awards alongside Sara Bareilles.

“So another crazy thing that I’ve never done before, and then finally I got back and I had so much I wanted to get out of my system, and ‘Bridges’ would not of happened had it not been for that domino effect after ‘Stages.'”

After a three-year whirlwind associated with his various acting and musical projects, and most recently the release of both “The Good Cop” and “Bridges” on Sept. 21, he did not succumb to the stressors of his career and instead began the 2018 Bridges Tour on October 18.

Entering the stage in a modest all-black ensemble paired with a blue bomber jacket, Groban was in a constant state of amazement during his first performance at The Forum in his hometown of Los Angeles on Oct. 27. With comical banter that contrasted the serious essence of the music, he reminisced about his first time at The Forum watching New Kids on the Block perform during the holiday season — laughing about seeing Donnie Wahlberg breakdance in a Santa Claus suit.

Shifting the tone with the introduction of his angelic vocals, he charmed the audience as he sang alongside his band, the choir, and the L.A. Symphonic Ensemble while a series of lights cascaded in different formations and colors above the stage. The lights were then lit in shades of blue as Groban performed a cover of “Pure Imagination” from the 1971 film “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.”

Disappearing from the main stage, he reappeared with simply a piano and a microphone on a smaller stage located across the arena to perform a cover of Billy Joel’s “She’s Always a Women.” He then invited special guest Idina Menzel to the stage to discuss their recent collaboration on song “Lullaby” for album “Singing You Home” that benefits foundations working to provide aid for immigrant children.

“When we come on tour it’s a place where we can come together whether you’re red or you’re blue and just celebrate through music. With a slight caveat, and that is that we firmly believe that no matter how you vote, especially on hot-button issues like immigration, whatever you want to do with your vote to decide how these things are handled legally, we should not ethically as human beings traumatize children in this country and traumatize families while we figure these things out,” Groban said.

“I believe with all my heart that is not a political statement, and just a human one. So we teamed up with our dear friend Laura Benanti, who put together a lullaby album to benefit these kids, and all the proceeds are going to go to the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) and Artists Striving Against Poverty (ASTEP),” Groban said.

The audience strongly resonated with Groban and Menzel’s passionate plea for this cause as heard through cheers erupting from every corner of the arena. After the duo performed the emotionally-charged songs “Lullaby” and “Falling Slowly,” the energy was further uplifted as Groban ran across the floor of the arena while the rhythm of the drums from the stage intensified. Once reacquainted with his band on the main stage, he again spoke about a cause close to his heart — mental health.

“There are songs that you write in celebration, and there are songs that you write sometimes because you’ve got to exorcise it from your body in order to be okay. And so, this is a song that was difficult to muster and one that is about a very specific struggle in my life. When we talk in day-to-day conversation, and in the zeitgeist of the news, we talk about all the diseases that we know,” Groban said.

“We talk about the things we need, desperately need cures for. We talk about Stand Up to Cancer now, which is always an incredible cause, and we always need that research, AIDS research, there are countless things … there is not too much yelling about how much we need a cure for those things. But then there are diseases that have more silence behind them, more stigmas behind them, things like addiction, depression, and anxiety, things like that,” Groban said.

Groban continues, “So, it’s important that we bring some of those stigmas and we allow ourselves to share when we’re going through those things, because I mentioned earlier, some of the sh**ty things social media does, but one of the great things social media does is when you’re hurting and you reach out you’d be so surprised how many people are there to take your hand and to tell you that you belong and that you are needed and necessary.”

“So for those of you that understand the silent struggle, for those that have been there and maybe suffer silently, this is a song about doing every little thing you can to just find the smallest of ways to get yourself back into the light … This is called ‘River,'” Groban said.

Over the duration of his performance, beginning with comedic monologues, and continuing  into heartfelt pleas advocating for humane conditions for immigrant children and opening the dialogue about mental health, Groban was always genuine. Integrating his musical genius with this plea for a more compassionate society, he truly touched the audience through his genuine nature.

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