Josh Groban is having a moment, and a Sondheim revival is next

The beloved singer makes an fascinating pivot within the revamped ‘Sweeney Todd’ coming to Broadway

Josh Groban at New York Metropolis’s Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, the place he’ll star within the third Broadway revival of “Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Avenue.” (Mary Inhea Kang for The Washington Put up)


NEW YORK — Josh Groban says considered one of his adolescent goals was to be middle-aged. No, actually. “I couldn’t wait to be 40,” he remembers. “I used to be an 18-year-old child who couldn’t wait to have that gravitas. As a result of my voice was massive however I used to be not. And I cherished the roles that have been greater, darker. Extra aged.”

That does assist clarify why he was in such a rush again then, leaving theater college at Carnegie Mellon College in his freshman 12 months to embark on a recording and live performance profession, one which shot him out of the gates like an odds-on favourite at Churchill Downs. With a luxurious baritone, a yen for present tunes and requirements, and a nerdy handsomeness that many a mom may love, he amassed all the tokens of singing star success: Grammy and Tony nods, multiplatinum albums, sold-out world excursions.

The celebrity and cash got here rather a lot quicker than did 40. However that lastly occurred, too — on Feb. 27, 2021, to be precise. Having efficiently conquered that chronological purpose, the now 41-year-old Josh Groban has been on the lookout for different hurdles befitting an individual with a zeal for midlife development. Offbeat film roles. A visitor slot in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Freestyle Love Supreme.” And that capstone affirmation of creative maturity: a lead in a Sondheim musical.

And never simply any lead, however one of the coveted within the canon of the late Stephen Sondheim: Sweeney Todd. On Jan. 12, Groban will begin rehearsals alongside Annaleigh Ashford (because the redoubtable Mrs. Lovett) within the third Broadway revival of “Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Avenue” for the reason that 1979 unique that starred Len Cariou and Angela Lansbury. The director is Thomas Kail, who shepherded to Broadway probably the most influential hit of the previous twenty years, Miranda’s “Hamilton.”

Groban is materializing in components each whimsical and tailored today: as a waiter in “Bizarre: The Al Yankovic Story” on Roku; because the Beast reverse H.E.R. in “Magnificence and the Beast: A thirtieth Celebration” on ABC. “Sweeney Todd,” with a rating by Sondheim and a ebook by Hugh Wheeler, is a far greater deal. It ticks off a whole lot of packing containers for a man whose extra severe ambitions have been fastened towards greater and darker.

“I’ve considered it,” Groban says, “ever since I used to be a camper at Interlochen.” (That’s the extremely regarded training center for the arts in Michigan he attended within the Nineties — and the place he lost out one summer on taking part in Sweeney.) “You understand, I’m not a kind of individuals who simply desires to shoehorn one thing in simply because it’s one thing I really like. So it needed to be proper.”

Within the coming months, audiences at Broadway’s Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, the place “Sweeney” is ready to start performances on March 26, will choose whether or not Groban is true for it. The voice being a match for the music is a given. However can this preternaturally genial fellow plausibly play the serial revenge killer of this blood-soaked musical? Prior to now, Sweeney’s been the Broadway property of brooding varieties equivalent to Cariou and Michael Cerveris, the latter starring in a 2005 revival reverse Patti LuPone, and naturally, Johnny Depp within the 2007 movie model.

Groban is a performer with a sunnier stage temperament; he’s a pleaser who slips simply into lighthearted assignments, as, for example, co-host of the Tony Awards (with Sara Bareilles in 2018), or headliner of his personal selection present, as he did in April in “Josh Groban’s Nice Large Radio Metropolis Present” earlier than 6,000 individuals at Radio Metropolis Music Corridor. On the night I attended, Groban sang and tossed T-shirts into the viewers, launched unheralded new performers, gave Broadway actress Denée Benton a singing spot, and even interviewed New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.

On the query of whether or not Groban can satisfactorily ship a Sweeney with gravitas, although, Kail has no doubts. “When Josh performs Sweeney, it’s an exploration of a Sweeney who had a lightweight and the way that mild will get extinguished,” the director says on the telephone from Romania, the place he’s taking pictures a collection a couple of household convulsed by the Holocaust, “We Were the Lucky Ones,” for Hulu. “How his Sweeney encounters the world when a lot has been taken from him. It’s what he brings to it instinctively, full-throated-ly.”

Six years in the past, Groban made his Broadway debut in a head-turning manufacturing that prompt an artist who may zig when the world anticipated him to zag. In “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812,” a musical directed by Rachel Chavkin and tailored by composer Dave Malloy from “Struggle and Peace,” Groban performed lumpy, taciturn Pierre in a padded costume and sang the plaintive “Mud and Ashes.” It earned him a Tony nomination and the gratifying feeling of being accepted into an ensemble.

“I used to be very spoiled by the ‘Nice Comet’ expertise, as a result of it began so organically,” he says, sitting within the Lunt-Fontanne on the autumn day he was visiting it for the primary time. Groban had seen the musical in its unique, off-Broadway incarnation, cherished it and determined to attempt to make one thing occur. “I reached out at the very same time they reached out, and it was like, ‘Oh, he’s . Properly, we have been simply going to ask him anyway.’ And I went out and received, you realize, three pints with Dave and Rachel. And we talked concerning the function and it was like, let’s workshop it, after which it simply occurred naturally.”

That urge for food strikes those that know him as basic Groban. “Frankly, there’s a neater path for Josh Groban, the model of Josh Groban who has a residency in Las Vegas or is smiling in smooth give attention to an album cowl, however that’s not who he’s,” says his pal, comic Alex Edelman. “He makes onerous and fascinating profession selections. He pushes himself in actually difficult instructions.”

The trail to being Josh Groban at 41 concerned some trial, error — and terror. As he describes it, the success was so meteoric that he actually wasn’t capable of digest it. All of the work and stress of grueling live performance excursions made him a nervous, joyless wreck. “By the point I used to be 25, I used to be having an existential disaster,” he remembers. “I had already launched three albums. You understand, I bought 20 million data at that time. And I used to be pondering to myself, ‘Properly, perhaps that’s it.’ I’m 25 and pondering to myself, ‘It will probably solely go down from right here. Possibly I’ll be a veterinarian.’”

What appeared from the surface like a carefree climb was in actual fact a perpetual steppingstone to nervousness. “You’re technically being thrown all these extraordinary experiences, however you’re seeing them via an actual slender lens of appreciation of these experiences, as a result of the stress is so nice,” he says. “So that you’re seeing the world via a lodge window, you’re experiencing the delicacies via room service.”

Maturity, to Groban, entailed letting himself off the hook. As a substitute of giving up, he determined to strive discovering some steadiness. “Sooner or later, I finished fascinated with proving it and I simply began to take pleasure in with the ability to reside in it and say, ‘Okay, you’ve executed rather a lot. You’ve achieved rather a lot. Now, have enjoyable, take pleasure in what you’ve executed, but additionally have enjoyable taking dangers.’

“I had a giant live performance to do in South Africa,” he continues, recalling a day a number of years in the past. “I had a possibility on considered one of my days off to go shark diving. Hell sure, I’m going to try this! Now if I’d nonetheless been 25, I might have mentioned, ‘Going to the ocean is gonna get me sick. You understand, the shark goes to the touch me and I’m going to lose my voice.’ And I simply mentioned to myself, ‘You understand what? Attempt saying sure. See what occurs. … Should you exit and also you expertise and also you discover the world on each degree that you could discover it, see what occurs.’”

It’s a philosophy he’s making an attempt to make use of once more, in “Sweeney Todd.” He and Kail talked concerning the challenge earlier than the pandemic after which returned to the notion in November 2021, after they organized an off-the-cuff session in New York to sing via the musical. Two days earlier than it was to happen, Sondheim died. “We have been all after all simply shellshocked,” Groban says. “All of us form of huddled and mentioned, ‘Can we do that?’”

The reply in the end needed to be sure. “To really feel like we get to honor him this manner, and to know that this was one thing he needed to have occur, is one thing that we take very, very severely.”

So now comes the journey of Groban diving in but once more, and hoping to not encounter any sharks — besides among the many different characters on this night of grand guignol. He envisions a Sweeney Todd who was a tough employee and household man who may need had an odd life till monstrous injustice twists him into one thing hideous. “I discover it a lot scarier,” he says, “when you possibly can comply with the person changing into the demon.”

This greater, darker Broadway alternative is one thing Groban is keen to seize. “All I’ll say,” he provides, “is I’m in it for so long as individuals will come.”

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