Sunday might see Josh Groban win his first Tony, but on Monday night he and friend Idina Menzel were upstaged by some newcomers. During a very busy week, Groban’s Find Your Light Foundation held its annual gala at Manhattan’s City Winery and young singers from New Arts, a performing arts program started by a dad from Newtown, CT, performed as part of a program that included violinist Joshua Bell and Broadway star Brian Stokes Mitchell. Find Your Light funds New Arts and other youth arts organizations across the country.
Groban, who is currently starring in the Broadway musical Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, adopted the cause as a result of the confidence boost he got as a young child singing in school. “I’ll never forget the feeling of confidence and pride that I had singing for the first time, as a kid who had very little self-esteem and very little morale,” he tells Billboard. “I can see that expression on kids’ faces. I can see it in them when they do it and it’s miraculous, it’s wonderful.”
The evening honored Chuck Close, who is similarly committed to introducing kids to arts and works closely with the organization Turnaround Arts to mentor schoolchildren. Groban met the artist at the opening of Great Comet where the two began discussing their common interest. In accepting his speech Close didn’t mince words about the threat that the current administration poses to arts funding. “It’s a very depressing time in general and a very scary time in the arts. We all have to step up and make a difference,” he says.
Musical highlights of the program included the Great Comet cast performing the show’s finale number, a duet by Bell and Groban and a rendition of “What A Wonderful World” by Stokes Mitchell. Opening the show were the New Arts singers who, in a surprise, also closed it, joining Menzel on stage for a finale of “Let It Go”.
Groban had been under the weather in the days leading up to the event and getting back in shape before the Tonys weighed on his mind. “I’ve been a little sick the past few days, I’m trying to recover,” he tells Billboard. “It’s one thing if you’re presenting and not in a show. It’s another thing if you’re nominated and in a show. It’s an extraordinary feeling and you are absolutely running on fumes the entire week.”
But clearly award shows weren’t any cause for Groban to slow down on work with Find Your Light. (The singer had actually missed the Theatre World Awards, given earlier in the day, where he received an honor.) “It’s such a great reward and it becomes addictive,” he explains. “You want to keep giving more and more you want to keep finding those looks on their faces, especially in underserved communities where kids aren’t getting those experiences.”