Josh Groban

Caroline Frost
October 03, 2007 12:00am

"LOVE at first sound" is how the woman next to me described her reaction to Josh Groban at the Arts Centre on Friday night.

Sure enough, it was hard to remain unaffected by the force of this young American who, for two escapist hours, embarked on an unabashed soaring serenade of a packed Hamer Hall.

Like Pavarotti, Groban sang in Italian for a good third of the evening. Unlike Pavarotti, Groban contains his sweet but enormous voice in a surprisingly small frame, with long legs and a big grin.

The effect is of a charismatic little bumble bee, nipping round the stage and amazing us afresh each time he stops to sing.

He got his fairytale break as a teenager, when he stood in for a sick Andrea Bocelli at the Grammy Awards and sang to a worldwide audience. Since then, he has followed the route of classical crooner turned crowd-pleaser, with predictable success.

At one point on Friday, he took off around the audience, singing humbly, “I am just a man.” Seemingly not so – his growing army of fans, the Grobanites, had to be prised off, and I was reminded of Barry Manilow.

Groban’s mega-hit You Raise Me Up got the biggest cheer of the night but, like a few of his anthems, seemed almost too big for the confines of the hall. His wide-ranging talents were on show with piano-playing, an impressive Elton John impersonation and even a drum solo. In his virtuosity, he was ably supported by solo violinist Lucia Micarelli.

The 26-year-old artist gave hints of where his music might go next with the African-inspired Weeping, and I wonder for how long he will be prepared to deliver on demand these crashing crescendos.

But for now, like every true star, he understands his fans, and they should experience this tour de force while they can. In an age of Pop Idol emotion-wringing wannabes, Josh Groban is the real deal.

Josh Groban lets his fans in for an emotional evening. Picture: James Croucher