If Josh Groban has a bucket list, he’s about to cross off one of his biggest items. Come Nov. 14, Groban will make his Broadway musical debut.
But first he must finish his summer tour, which brings him to FirstMerit Bank Pavilion on Northerly Island on Tuesday.
The 35-year-old singer has been on the road in support of his album “Stages,” his tribute to some of Broadway’s greatest hits including “Try to Remember” (from “The Fantasticks”), “What I Did for Love” (from “A Chorus Line”), “If I Loved You” (from “Carousel)” and “Bring Him Home” (from “Les Miserables), among others.
“It’s been a year since the album came out, and it’s been an amazing ride,” Groban said. “This was a passion project for me. These are songs I’ve had in my life since I was a kid. This is what I went to school for. Then one day it’s the right time, and you have the right collaborators and everything aligns just so, and it’s the right time to do a passion project.”
Like acting in musical theater. At the Tony Awards telecast in June, he “performed” on Broadway — in a musical — sort of.
“They told me backstage to go out and then look at the screen behind me because [host] ‘James [Corden] has something in store for you,’ ” Groban said.
He said he knew “that video” — showing Groban as Tevye in a high school production of “Fidder on the Roof” — “was out there on YouTube.
“The idea that this 17-year-old me, who is having this experience on stage — that was the only time I had any sense of confidence,” he said. “I was super-shy in high school. Just to talk to anyone, let alone girls, was so difficult. To have that character [of Tevye] to step into was my refuge. That saved me in so many ways. The kid on that stage at that moment experiencing all that that moment encompassed — and then going off stage and feeling like a nobody again.
“And who knew that one day it would be aired on the Tonys? There are very few things that get me choked up, and that was one of them.”
Coming full circle for Groban also includes his Broadway debut in the new stage musical “Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812.” Based on a 70-page portion of the Tolstoy epic “War and Peace,” the musical, directed by Rachel Chavkin, focuses on the outcast Count Pierre Bezukhov and Natasha (Denée Benton) and her affair with Anatole (Lucas Steele).
“It just moved me in a way that very few things that I’ve seen in the past 10 years have moved me,” Groban said of the show. “I first saw [the show] in a tent downtown, then most recently in Cambridge [Massachusetts]. There’s a picture with me and the cast from five years ago, and I kept thinking this show deserves a larger audience. It deserves to be [on Broadway]. I always felt in my heart that there was a part of Pierre in me.”
In the play, Pierre “is a wanderer, an overthinker. His intellect is what keeps him from being happy,” Groban said. “The whole show takes place in a supper club in Moscow.”
The ingenious set for the show was created by 2015 MacArthur “genius grant” recipient Mimi Lien. The audience is seated in the supper-club setting, with the cast performing all around them.
“There’s a love triangle, and much despair ensues,” Groban said. “There’s a lot of self-discovery for Pierre in those 70 pages. He’s going through a huge amount of love and loss. [Composer / librettist] David Malloy has taken it from this huge, huge book and condensed it into a story that’s so relateable.”
Then, there’s the musical instrument his character plays.
“Yep,m working on my accordion chops,” Groban, an accomplished pianist, said. “It’s great to feel the breadth of the instrument. I will continue to play it. And, no, it’s not nerdy. Weird Al made it cool!”
As for the trajectory his career has taken, Groban is still amazed it actually happened.
“I am still wowed by it all,” he said. “I didn’t have a massive-selling debut album [in 2001]. The album was selling like 90 copies a week. At that time it was Boy Band central in music. But [producer] David [Foster] kept saying we’re gonna find our audience. It wasn’t until a few months later when ’20/20′ did a story on me, and then Gayle King approached her pal Oprah Winfrey and told her you have to have this guy on your show, that everything just happened in a big, big way.”
And the big hits soon followed: “You Raise Me Up,” To Where You Are,” “You’re Still You,” “The Prayer” (a duet with Celine Dion).
As for opening night jitters, Groban, who started attending Broadway shows at a teenager, is taking it all in stride.
“No matter what my nerves are on opening night of previews, I know there are people out in the audience who’ve never seen the show, maybe never experienced theater before. That 17-year-old Tevye in me who wanted to tell a story on stage and take people to another place will be there doing just that.”