SALT LAKE CITY — Josh Groban was visibly calm when he sang, clearly determined to let each baritone note ring throughout Vivint Arena. But in between his uplifting songs, he was bursting at the seams like a long-lost friend eager to share the latest news in his life.
For the 37-year-old singer, the latest news involves a Broadway debut, hosting the 2018 Tony Awards, releasing “Bridges” — his first album of original music since 2013 — and landing his first lead acting role on the Netflix show “The Good Cop.”
He barely took a breath as he enthusiastically walked his Utah fans through it all Monday night. He was also quick to mention not just once, but twice, how the Salt Lake arena was home to his “Awake Live” TV special that he recorded in 2007. Between songs, Groban treated the arena crowd intimately, asking couples how long they’ve been together, talking about the importance of arts education in schools and even taking note of a baby in the crowd.
Those conversations, while not the evening's focus, added to the richness of the night, reminding me that in Groban's 17-year-long career, his purpose is still to lift and inspire, just as he has with his music. In fact, the word “inspirational” kept coming to my mind as Groban performed for nearly two hours, following a one-hour powerhouse set from Broadway star Idina Menzel.
Half of Groban’s setlist came from his latest album “Bridges,” released just last month. With help from a Southern Utah University choir and local orchestra musicians, Groban took the large Salt Lake crowd to church with “River” — a song he dedicated to those who “suffer silently” with addiction, depression and anxiety, among other things. A few numbers later, he performed the uplifting “You Raise Me Up,” which has become a signature song for Groban.
The night's surprising high point was Groban’s tear-jerking rendition of “Bring Him Home” from “Les Miserables.” At this point in the show, Groban had moved from the main stage to a secondary stage in the center of the arena. Standing on a platform with just a piano backing him up, the singer launched into a mesmerizing, high-soaring version of the Broadway classic. When he hit those three final notes — Groban may be a baritone, but he’s got some high notes up his sleeve — many in the audience gave him a standing ovation. Those not standing were busy brushing away tears.
On this secondary stage, Groban also performed “Pure Imagination” from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” channeled his inner Billy Joel with “She’s Always a Woman” and brought Menzel out for two duets.
Speaking of Menzel, it would be a sin to not mention her opening set. Her vocal prowess was the perfect setup for Groban, and she performed a wide range of Broadway hits from her days in "Rent" and "Wicked," and songs from Disney's "Frozen." She captured the crowd as she belted out the fan favorites — any phones that were out were only being used to record hits like "Defying Gravity" and "Let it Go." Another crowd pleaser was "Take Me or Leave Me" from "Rent," which featured Menzel and her backup singer, Vanessa Bryan, fully engaged in a soulful vocal battle.
When joining forces with Groban, Menzel's voice, with just a hint of raspiness, took on even greater power. Although both singers commented on Utah’s high altitude — at one point Groban joked, “I have almost passed out seven times tonight” — their belting voices never let on as they interlocked and soared through the arena.
Groban returned to the stage for two encores, the best being his stirring, Aretha Franklin-esque twist on Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Groban has covered this song for many years but only recently added it to “Bridges.” The song’s lyrics were especially poignant as Groban played the piano and sang for those hurting from the recent Pittsburgh synagogue shooting.
Before coming out to Utah, Groban spoke with the Deseret News about the recent events in his life, especially taking pride in his lead role on “The Good Cop.” When asked about his acting career, Groban said, “(I) hope to do it for many years. But we’ll see.”
Groban is great in "The Good Cop;" it's clear the man has acting chops and impressive comedic timing. But here's to hoping that as his acting career continues to grow, he’ll also continue to use his voice as he has used it for the past 17 years: to raise people up.