Review by Samantha Wu
Photos by Andrew Hartl

The bashful baritone Josh Groban had plenty of reasons to want to bring his Stages tour back to the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto for not one but two back to back sold out shows. Inspired to record a full album of show tunes — music he was singing for himself, family and friends long before Canadian David Foster signed him to a deal — after performing at the Sony stage only two years prior during Toronto’s Luminato Festival. For the festival, Groban was asked by Rufus Wainwright to take part in a project called If I Loved You: Gentlemen Prefer Broadway – An Evening of Love Duets where male singers would sing male-female love duets to each other. After being part of the performance and remembering how much he loved the music being performed, he decide to do an album celebrating songs from musicals. Thus one of the various seeds for his Stages album was born. 

The Sony Centre is a fraction of the size of the Air Canada Centre, the last venue I saw Groban perform in, making this a much more intimate performance. The intimacy certainly lent itself to the nature of the performance — just musical numbers from the Stages album without any of his past hits like “You Raise Me Up”. It was a show created for fans of musicals and fans of his work and it gave musical fans a chance to flex their musical trivia.

The two-hour performance, split with an intermission, started off with “Pure Imagination”, a song everyone remembers from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory to create a whimsical atmosphere. The stage was simple, elegant and inviting. Dotted by a few chandeliers, Groban began the song accompanied by one piano before the curtain lifted to reveal the orchestra behind. Overall, the visual impact of the stage with the decor of illuminated bare trees, empty frames, and the chandeliers paired with the lighting made the stage feel like both a ballroom and a living room.

An evening of musical numbers would not be complete without a few staples – Les Miserables (“Bring Him Home”) and Phantom of the Opera (‘All I Ask of You” a duet with Tony Award winning actress and singer Lena Hall) made appearances. Of course, there were a few surprises — “Le Temp Des Cathédrales” from Notre-Dame de Paris performed en français with a sheer backdrop lowered in front of the orchestra with an image of the famous cathedral projected to it. A replica of the painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jette” by Georges Seurat was brought on stage to accompany Groban as he sang “Finishing the Hat” from Sunday in the Park with George by Stephen Sondheim that was inspired by the painting. Groban even closed off the first act with “Anthem” from Chess, a musical that isn’t that well known written by Benny and Bjorn from ABBA. The Victor Singers from Toronto took the stage with him.

Groban’s guest for the evening, Hall, accompanied Groban for two duets before taking the stage for a solo performance. She was there to promote her own live album of classic rock tunes — the lady can not only let her pipes sore in musical roles but she possesses a classic rock spirit akin to Janis Joplin that she let shine when she performed “Save Me” from Queen and “Maybe I’m Amazed” by Paul McCartney.

The second act commenced with a medley from Into the Woods and Sweeney Todd with “Children Will Listen” paired with “Not While I’m Around”. Hall was welcomed back to the stage for her second duet of “If I Loved You” from Carousel which Groban would later revisit with “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. He returned for his encore and sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz — as if the evening could not get more whimsical.

Overall, it was a lovely performance with Groban showcasing his best. The clear and rich timbre of his voice added different depths and nuances to songs many know so well. I would have liked to see more from Hall as she’s quite a performer and it would have been nice to see her open for Groban and then later join him on stage. The visual effects of the projections and the cozy stage were great to see though I did find a few of the lighting cues to be a bit abrupt and not as smooth and seamless as I would have liked.

Groban returns to the Sony Centre tonight for his second performance and if tickets aren’t already sold out, this is a show musical and Groban fans should definitely see.

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