IN PHOTOS: Josh Groban in Manila

Stephen Lavoie
Josh serenades Manila with Lea Salonga and Christian Bautista as guests

ONE NIGHT MANILA. Josh Groban serenades the crowd during his concert. All photos by Stephen Lavoie/Rappler

“Sensational” is one way to describe the performance of Josh Groban on Friday night, February 22 at the SM Mall of Asia Arena. “When you record music as a singer you slide it under the door and hope that people connect to it, you don’t really know,” the singer said.

There are only a handful of artists in the music industry today that are gifted with the vocal prowess to generate the stamina and skill required to compete with the nearly full ABS-CBN Orchestra, the esteemed Ateneo Choral Singers and a full touring band with two percussionists.

Most vocalists would be drowned out, overwhelmed with an abundance of instruments on stage but Josh’s voice soared over the sound like a dream. 

SING IT. Josh and his band perform some of the songs he's become known for.

One of the risks of performing on such a crowded stage is that isn’t just a chance of technical problems but the music itself can mistakingly become a garbled mess. But there was no cacophony here with a concert glowing with a pleasing aura and a comfortable flow.

The instrumentation itself was well thought out and blended fluidly with melodic combinations of the various instruments depending on what the song lent itself too. The variations seem limitless as the hefty 19 song setlist meandered gracefully from well-know tracks too instrumentals and solos on piano with a few duets performed with special guests. 

POP AND OPERA. Many of his songs include from musicals, pop, and classics.  

A quieter moment of the show when Josh sat alone at the piano, performing “Wandering Kind” which showcased his spectacular voice. After the song, he explained that the track is not included in the Bridges Tour setlist. It was added just for Manila and he had devoted some time before the concert rehearsing at the hotel since he hadn’t sung it in so many years. You’d never have known.

Another standout for the evening was Michael Jackson’s “She’s Out of My Life” also a song exclusive to Manila. It never gained much traction in the US as a B-side but delighted folks here and in the Asian market so it was really never sung at concerts. 

The setlist included Broadway show covers like “Bring Him Home” from Les Miserables and “Stages” which is no surprise considering Groban played Pierre Bezukhov in Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, which earned him a nomination for a Tony Award as Best Actor in a Musical. The fans also responded well to “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. 

MUSICALS. Josh performs songs from musicals such as ' Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812' and 'Les Miserables.'

His stage presence was masterful and appeared like second nature, addressing the crowd meaningfully and often. In between songs the arena listened carefully as Josh shared memories from his teen years when he was encouraged by an exceptional teacher to perform publicly. He shared insights regarding the songs themselves with various backstories of his musical career like when he stood in for Andrea Bocelli at the Grammys or first appeared on the TV show Ally McBeal many years ago. He also spoke of how music can reach out to people in need. 

“It’s an incredible thing to be able to use music as therapy, in a way to get out of your head when you are feeling dark. We live in such an Instagram world where everything has to be perfect, everything has to look perfect,” Josh said, “of course that’s not always the case.” 

 HELLO MANILA. Josh talks to the audience in between song numbers.

Lea Salonga joined him on stage for a couple of duets, singing “All I Ask of You’ and “The Prayer.”

It’s difficult to put into words how wonderful these songs were, their voices sounded so beautiful together, a match made in heaven. Certainly one of the top ten live vocal performances I have experienced in my lifetime. The crowd did not want to see this portion of the show end and when Lea was escorted off the stage in a wheelchair due to a recent ski injury in Japan, you could hear the crowd plead for more.

They also had a plethora of entertaining banter in between the music with talks of mutual admiration and comical anecdotes from two monumental figures in entertainment. Yet it was laid back with an easy feel so all in attendance just felt as though they were part of a conversation between friends. 

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Christian Bautista also performed “Will We Meet Again” with Josh called and their voices matched fluidly. Christian opened the concert earlier in the evening in an impressive fashion with a few songs to get the mostly-over-50 crowd warmed up. 

 BROTHER. Christian Bautista is one of the guests in the concert.


THANK YOU. Josh entertains the audience.

“I’ve half-joked at interviews but I think that it’s actually true. I think there are more great singers in the Philippines than anywhere else in the world.” Josh Groban said. 

As the concert drew to a close, he finished up solo on the piano with the Simon and Garfunkel classic, “Bridge over Troubled Waters,” which obviously moved the entire crowd with lyrics and emotions that are as relevant today as they were when the song was written in 1970.

Even if you’re not a super fan of this adult contemporary or Broadway musical genre if you ever get the chance to go see this artist perform live, you won’t regret it. –