“This was such a passion project that I thought maybe it was a little self-indulgent,” says Josh Groban. “But show after show, I would meet fans and they would say ‘When are you going to do a Broadway album?’ And any time I would dip my toes into that world, they went nuts. So I thought, maybe this is actually a win-win—maybe not only is this something I really wanted to make for a long time, but the fans really frickin’ want to hear this album.”
Groban, who has sold over 25 million records worldwide, sat down at Pandora’s New York City offices for an exclusive conversation about his new album, Stages. The record marks the first time that the singer has dedicated an entire project to songs that originated in musical theater. (In addition to the interview, Groban worked with Pandora worked to curate a custom mixtape, launching today, featuring his favorite songs from a wider range of Broadway
“I’m surprised I haven’t done an album like this sooner,” he says. “I got the bug for this kind of music very early in my life. My parents had the wherewithal to pull us away from MTV and Nickelodeon and take us out to see shows. But I wanted to make sure that I was in the right place in my life, that I could tell these stories and have lived through some of them, that vocally I could really tackle them.”
The selections on Stages range from more traditional Broadway classics (“Over the Rainbow,” “You’ll Never Walk Alone”) to songs that have become standards for a new generation (“Bring Him Home” from Les Miserables, A Chorus Line’s “What I Did for Love”). Kelly Clarkson joins Groban on “All I Ask of You” from The Phantom of the Opera, and Audra McDonald duets on Carousel’s “If I Loved You.” Stages includes three songs written by the incomparable Stephen Sondheim, and Groban even took on “Pure Imagination,” Gene Wilder’s theme from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
“We picked songs that I grew up loving, and I felt like, at least for a first record like this, they needed to be from shows that I experienced personally and really know in-depth,” says Groban. “The songs that had the most personal stories were the ones that had to be on the record. ‘All I Ask of You’ was the first song I ever sang in my whole career. That’s full circle, so I needed to find a really kick-ass duet partner, and Kelly Clarkson was just amazing.”
Singing material from musical theater even allowed Groban to draw on his acting chops, which he’s displayed in numerous film and television appearances, including roles on The Office and Parks and Recreation. While he’s working on finding the best way to take the Stages songs back to the stage (“There wasn’t a moment that went by recording this album when I wasn’t thinking about how cool the live show could be”), for now Josh Groban is also still sorting out how his performances of such classic compositions fits into their legacy.
“Singing songs that have been sung hundreds of times, the self-conscious, self-critical side of me says ‘Why me? What am I doing here?’ I feel that way half the time I go out on stage—‘What are these people doing here?’ I needed to say that, OK, there have been a hundred people who have sung this song, but I haven’t sung it yet. And if somebody likes my version, then it would have been worth it.”
By Alan Light