Fans of Josh Groban know the NYC-based performer from his multiplatinum albums, not to mention his many daytime television appearances, including stints on Live with Kelly, where he was rumored as a finalist to become co-host. For his latest role, the 35-year-old star has returned to his theatrical roots, playing the lead in Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, the first (and only!) Broadway smash based on Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. We caught up with Groban to talk about why The Great Comet is his dream role, what audiences should expect from the show and what he loves about New York City.
How would you describe Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812? Josh Groban: It’s a one-of-a-kind, very inventive, modernized telling of a 70-page portion of War and Peace. Dave Malloy, our composer, chose this portion that revolves around Natasha’s love being out to war, this rogue coming in and sweeping her off her feet, and Pierre having this existential crisis. It’s a genreless, beautiful, immersive show that I’ve loved since I saw it downtown.
You saw it when it was a pop-up performance in the Meatpacking District, right? JG: It was one of my favorite nights out to the theater, and I tweeted as such. I read that the producers were thinking of bringing it to Broadway and thinking of transforming a proscenium theater into this immersive world. They reached out around the same time I reached out, remembering that I loved the show. I sang some stuff for Dave and, as is often the case when you wait for the right thing and the pieces seem to fall into place, it was right all around.
How does it feel to be on Broadway for the first time? JG: Fifteen years into my career and after a lifetime of dreaming of doing this, it’s a dream come true. No matter how many shows we do, it’ll never get old. I’m pinching myself as I’m talking. It’s what I studied in school before I got a record deal. To have a fresh group of people you’re going to tell a story to every night—that’s excitement. Eight shows a week is no joke; it’s definitely the hardest thing I’ve done in my career. But the reward is beyond anything I could have ever expected.
What challenges did you face in preparing for the role? JG: Dave wrote the score originally for himself to play Pierre, and he’s got a bluesy, gravelly, Tom Waits vibe to the way that he sings. My voice is more classical. So the first thing was how do I honor the score vocally? The other thing was the physicality. Pierre is supposed to be kind of introverted, shy and awkward, but he’s also a bull in a china shop. He’s very large. I wear a very padded suit out there.
What was the first Broadway play you ever saw? JG: Cats, when I was 9 years old. My parents took me to see it when it was touring in LA. For a kid, it was incredible. To see a great play or musical theater experience [at that age] is life changing. It shows you the bigger picture of how you feel, how the world is. Cats definitely made me feel different about our family cat, for sure.
As someone who grew up in Los Angeles, what do you appreciate about New York City? JG: I live downtown. I love walking. I’m able to step out my front door and get exercise or go a long way by walking for a short amount of time. In LA that’s unheard of; you walk 30 minutes and you’ve gone two blocks. Here, you can turn left or turn right and you’re always going to find good people, good food, good culture—24/7.
What’s one thing in NYC you haven’t done yet that you want to do? JG: Being downtown, near the Hudson River, I look out at the Statue of Liberty all the time. I want to go. It would take my breath away to see it right up in front of me. I was taking flying lessons for a really long time in Westchester—I want to fly down the Hudson, around the Statue of Liberty. And I’ll never achieve it, but I’d also like to eat at every restaurant in the City.
If you had a friend visiting NYC for the first time, where would you take them? JG: There are so many things you can pack into one day. I could spend all day in Central Park . If somebody hasn’t been to the City before, [I’d recommend you] get a cup of coffee, pack a lunch and just people-watch in Central Park. I would say maybe see a show. Take your pick—go to Lincoln Center , come see us on Broadway, visit Brooklyn and go to BAM. There are some incredible Off-Broadway performances happening all the time. The thing about New York is, just think it and find out where it is because there is literally anything you could possibly want to do here. I would say get lost—that’s the main thing. Go out, get a bike and just decide that you’re going to spend three hours exploring. I guarantee you you’re going to find food, shops, people, experiences that you weren’t expecting but are going to love.