by Louw Mulder
A Theatrical Masterpiece coming alive on Concert Stage
When you are a fan of a huge international artist, and you have been invited to see that artist live on a stage, the natural anticipation is set so high, it in turn makes the risk of getting disappointed so much greater. This sense of disappointment after seeing Josh Groban live at the Ticketpro Dome was nowhere to be spoken about, as this artist lived up to every possible expectation during this live performance of his Stages Tour.
At first glance, when entering the venue, you were put at ease with the intimate set of the stage, a grand Piano and crystal chandeliers, creating a setting that could not prepare anyone for what was to come. The houselights went out, and Mr Mark Stephens appeared behind the piano, moments before Groban took his place on centre stage. With an electric atmosphere, the dome ignited when Groban sang his first words. The show came to life with something that for most, was just a Pure Imagination.
During his first song, the curtains behind Groban opened up, revealing the Johannesburg Festival Orchestra completing the full picture. The orchestra was conducted by Groban’s travelling companion, Sean O’loughlin, leaving the entire Dome with a few bars of breathless awe, as the song built to a tangible thrill.
A few songs into the programme, with the song Anthem from the musical Chess¸ another surprise was sprang onto the audience with the Mzansi Youth Choir appearing on stage, to fulfil a perfect arrangement with Groban himself. I have to lift my hat to this Choir who did South Africa proud, making a big difference in the sound of songs like Weeping and Groban’s all-time hit, You raised me up!
Mr Tariqh Akoni, who completed the travelling quadruplet, was the master behind the guitar, in a very special rendition of Try to Remember, from the production The Fantasticks. It is no secret that the musical chemistry between Groban, Stephens, O’loughlin and Akoni, made each song sound just as well as on the mastered CD, to compliment the experience with that spell-bounding familiarity each member of the audience went through.
Besides the brilliance of Stephens on the piano, Akoni on his strings and the bold, flawless sounds of the orchestra and choir accompanying Groban on each song, there was the amazing production that added to this once-in-a-lifetime event. The lighting was designed to set a different mood with every song, and executed in such an overwhelming way, that no photographer would be able to capture those moods on any picture. The sound was phenomenal, which all can agree could make or break the best of productions.
With so many South African hands involved in this production, I have to highlight the majestic soprano voice of our own Magdalene Minnaar. Most South Africans will remember her from a previous Pieter Toerien Production of Phantom of the Opera, where Minnaar played the role of Christine. The duets with Groban, All I Ask of You and If I loved you, were perfectly combined in a harmonious collaboration of two great classical voices. It is impossible to believe that Groban and Minnaar only had 20 minutes to rehearse their two duets.
Minaar told Stage and Screen that it was an amazing experience to perform with Groban. “Not only is Josh one of the nicest guys whom I had the opportunity to work with, but such a giving artist on stage. I will perform with him anytime again” Minnaar said with her beautiful smile.
Groban’s personality and presence on stage was remarkably evident as a true, experienced artist. With his signature style of singing with his eyes closed most of the time, it was fascinating to note that for that moment, it was only him, his music, and that song that mattered to him. It was as though he was in his own world, this being the perfect recipe for the emotion in each song, hitting every note, delivering the perfected version of that song.
Personally, Josh Groban has mastered the art of giving a serious performance in each song, tightening the grip on the audience with each and every lyric, and then, with his quirky, catchy sense of humour, takes the audience to a very relaxed state of enjoyment. Between each song, he told tales of his life as a child, his ambition to become a musical star, as well as some history snippets behind his choices of songs on this album. One can say that between the serious musician, and the funny man away from his music, there was a total balance, adding more to the show and giving each audience member more than what was anticipated.
Groban’s personality also came to the fore by the way he treated his guest stars. He introduced and thanked all the South African performers with admiration and appreciation, eliminating any thought that he himself is the better artist on stage. His humility and gratefulness towards his support in South Africa was evident, and I became an even bigger fan. I also have to say well done Big Concerts on yet another Big Experience.
As Josh Groban says in his programme souvenir: “This music holds such special significance for me. ‘Stages’ is an album I have wanted to bring to you for many years. But even more, I have wanted to take these songs to the actual stage. These songs were meant to be seen live.”
So, If I loved you, I will share my Pure Imagination, and All I ask of You, is to Bring him Home, because Children will listen. Try to remember that You’ll never walk Alone Over the Rainbow, or under the Old Devil Moon, Not while I’m Around, because that’s What I did for Love.