When visiting performers are compelled to subject Kansas City audiences to renditions of “Over the Rainbow,” the gesture can seem forced or even condescending. Tuesday night at Starlight Theatre, Josh Groban’s interpretation of the standard associated with “The Wizard of Oz” was anything but perfunctory.
Like almost everything else he sang in his one hour, 45 minute headlining set, Groban’s interpretation of “Over the Rainbow” displayed his rigorous intellect and magnificent voice.
Even though Groban, 35, is a vocalist in the anachronistic mold of Barbra Streisand, Tuesday’s show was startlingly dynamic. The opening selection set the tone for the wonderful production that was filled with surprising flourishes.
Groban sang the first portion of “Pure Imagination” accompanied only by a pianist before a curtain parted to reveal the Kansas City Festival Orchestra and the members of his touring band. A series of similarly ravishing effects followed.
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The full orchestra and band added heft to a set list that drew heavily on “Stages,” his 2015 album of songs written for musicals. The project had been brewing for years.
Groban recalled that his “monumentally awesome career” was launched when he sang “S’Wonderful” — a song George and Ira Gershwin composed for the 1927 musical “Funny Face” — for his junior high classmates. He was accosted by a bully the next day. His astonished tormenter told him that “you’ve got the voice of an angel, bro.”
His former oppressor was right. Groban’s voice soared on renditions of light classical material, show tunes and pop songs. He was joined by the Webster University Chamber Singers for an emotional reading of “Dust & Ashes,” a consequential new song he will perform in two months when he makes his Broadway debut in “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.”
Even seemingly bad ideas worked. Against all odds, a duet with opening act Foy Vance on the Simon & Garfunkel hit “Bridge Over Troubled Water” was transcendent rather than hackneyed. His duet with the second opening act, Sarah McLachlan, on her hit “Angel” was almost as enchanting.
After telling the members of the audience of about 7,500 that he last performed at Starlight in 2004, Groban said that he hoped a derisive critic reviewing the concert would suggest that “he has grown far more intolerable since then.” His wish won’t be fulfilled. To recast the lyric of “Over the Rainbow,” earning a negative review of Tuesday’s show is a dream Groban dared to dream that won’t come true.
Bill Brownlee: @happyinbag
Pure Imagination; Try to Remember; What I Did for Love; Old Devil Moon; Alla Luce Del Sole; Bridge Over Troubled Water; Alejate; Run; Angel; Canto Alla Vita; February Song; Dust & Ashes; Children Will Listen/Not While I’m Around; Le Temps Des Cathedrales; Bring Him Home; You Raise Me Up; Over the Rainbow.
Possession; I Will Remember You; Building a Mystery; Adia; Beautiful Girl; World on Fire; Sweet Surrender; Loving You Is Easy; Song for My Father; The Long Goodbye; Ice Cream; The Sound That Love Makes.