Josh Groban on what Stephen Sondheim ‘did so beautifully’

Josh Groban can nevertheless remember the sight of a VHS copy of “Sunday in the Park With George” on a shelf in his parents’ household when he was growing up in Los Angeles.

“This was the variation with Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters, and I’d constantly see it and consider, ‘That’s a funny include — bizarre orange shade, fifty percent portray and fifty percent jeans and boots,’” says the Grammy-nominated singer and actor popular for his major voice and his multiplatinum pop-classical data. “One day I questioned my dad and mom, ‘What is this?’ and they reported, ‘It’s a musical. Do you want to observe it?’”

Consequently was born a Stephen Sondheim enthusiast.

In the decades considering the fact that, Groban, now 40, has returned typically to the work of the good and beloved composer and lyricist, who died Friday at age 91 soon after redefining the Broadway musical with reveals including “Sunday in the Park,” “Company,” “Follies,” “Passion” and “Merrily We Roll Along.”

For his 2015 album, “Stages,” Groban mashed up “Children Will Listen” (from “Into the Woods”) and “Not Whilst I’m Around” (from “Sweeney Todd”). And past calendar year, not prolonged immediately after creating his Broadway debut in the Tony-profitable “Natasha, Pierre & the Excellent Comet of 1812,” he took element in a virtual 90th-birthday tribute to Sondheim that gained rave reviews.

Groban wrote Saturday on Instagram about his admiration for the late icon I named him afterwards to listen to a bit more.

“Sunday in the Park,” which is about the French painter Georges Seurat, handles some very adult themes: resourceful inspiration, qualified ambition, sexual frustration. Did you comprehend at age 8 or 9 what was heading on in the present?
Steve experienced these kinds of a way of outlining all those things in his songs so that all people could realize. Some of the lyrics ended up over and above me, but just the chords — the way it was structured and the strategy that he could basically paint a image of this male — I quickly uncovered myself knowing Seurat by way of that score. And then by comprehension him, probably I could obtain an knowledge of the bigger imaginative approach. Which is what Steve did so wonderfully: He woke up your curiosity with no you even recognizing it.

Did you sense early on that his tunes was various from other composers’?
He was equipped to ignite the two sides of the mind concurrently. There are shows in which I go in and I’m swept away by the audio, the drama, the grandeur. And then there are exhibits the place I’ve mentioned, “Gosh, this is fantastic,” but the goose bump factor did not happen. Steve’s operate stimulated the intellect it challenged you to feel deeper about on your own and about the globe. At the similar time, he could get your breath absent with his tunes. That is exceedingly rare.

What was the very first Sondheim track you performed?
The initially crack I took was at the Interlochen Arts Academy. They were putting on a manufacturing of “Sweeney Todd,” and I sang “My Friends” for the audition. I was, like, 14 I received forged as Prisoner Despatched to Death No. 3, I assume, but I liked the score so considerably that I just sat on the side of the stage and rooted for the display. They acquired improved immediately after that. The to start with time I was ready to sing his operate skillfully was just after I’d come to be good friends with Barbara Prepare dinner. She really served to manual me early in my job and launched me to Steve early on. She encouraged me to sing “Johanna” from “Sweeney Todd” and requested me to sing “Move On” with her fairly a number of situations. I acquired to sing for Steve way too, which was very meaningful — authorized me to say thank you to him in a way I do not believe I ever would’ve been ready to with terms.

Folks say the audio is complicated to sing.
Technically it’s extremely hard — incredibly rangy. The roles that he writes ordinarily choose you out of the regular voice sorts: baritone, tenor, alto, soprano. You have to match into these molds, but you also have to have a good deal extra up your sleeve if you’re going to sing the complete score. But like all the excellent writers, he gives so substantially. Whenever you have a issue about the whys of the clearly show or of a character, it’s all in the get the job done. And they are the sort of exhibits that you keep on to learn. Years and many years and yrs right after you to start with hear a song, you can uncover a thing new in a lyric that you hadn’t identified in advance of. That’s the other wonderful challenge of his songs: Just when you think you know all there is to know about it, there’s much more.

Over and above “Send in the Clowns,” Sondheim didn’t have a lot of huge pop crossover times. Why do you believe that is?
For theater writers, it is a slim window into that entire world since you are writing with actually long arcs. I’ll never ever forget about: He invited me around to his condominium to chat between [“Great Comet”] demonstrates I experienced a two-display working day, and I ran — ran, ran, ran — to go have a half-hour with him. He was asking me thoughts about the tunes planet, and I was inquiring him about his process. And this matter arrived up, the idea of a a few- or 4-moment hit. I questioned him, “Do you ever, just for pleasurable, generate treats? A music where by the full story is heading to be in these 4 minutes?” And he reported no. He reported, “If it is not a story that I love and want to see via from commencing to center to conclusion, I never genuinely want to dive in.” The process was so extensive-sort for him. We chat about album artists and just one-strike miracles, proper? He was the album artist.