Josh Groban Revisits Storytelling and His Musical-Theater Background With Stages

With multiple platinum albums under his belt, Josh Groban is among the most successful pop singers of the past fifteen years. He has also appeared on most prominent television talk shows, including the Oprah Winfrey Show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, 20/20, Jimmy Kimmel Live and The Tonight Show With Jay Leno. (He even performed at Super Bowl XXXVIII.) As an actor, Groban has had roles on Ally McBeal, The Office, CSI: NY and Parks and Recreation and in the films Muppets Most Wanted and Crazy, Stupid Love, among others.

But his music isn't inspired by popular culture. No, Groban derives inspiration from his musical-theater training. 

While in high school, Groban met producer David Foster, who recognized some clear talent and tapped Groban to sing at California governor Gray Davis's inauguration in 1999. Later, Foster signed Groban to a recording contract while Groban studied music theater at Carnegie-Mellon University.

Groban went on to appear on the TV shows and sell five million albums. But he still loved musical theater. 

In 2008, he performed in the musical Chess, singing “Anthem” rather than “One Night in Bangkok," the unlikely '80s pop hit from the production.

"I also think I'm much better at singing really big, operatic Russian anthems than I am singing '80s rap songs," Groban says. "You've got to go where your strengths are."

Groban's role in Chess served as kind of a catalyst for his 2015 album Stages, for which he recorded versions of some of his favorite Broadway musical songs. “The right arrangers, the right producers and the right time in my life [all came together last year],” says Groban.

“I think one thing I've missed from the concert life is the ability to really tell a full story from front to back," he continues. "I think that's what drives me to it more than anything. When you record songs with many different stories throughout your life, you think to yourself, as you've got all these songs recorded, 'Is there any arc at all?' Then you realize, as you're putting them on the album and finding out what order they'll be in, that there really is one, and that [it] was an interesting thing putting those puzzles pieces together on a record.”

Josh Groban, Sarah McLachlan and Foy Vance perform at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, August 19, at the Pepsi Center, 303-405-1100, tickets start at $52.50, all ages.
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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.