The concert Wednesday night at Darien Lake proved, despite accoutrements, arrangements and angst, to be about singular voices. The triad of singers alighted upon a myriad of styles.
Headlining was ever-affable Josh Groban. Sandwiched in the middle slot was sultry singer Sarah McLachlan. And opening it all was rollicking Foy Vance.
Groban, out on his “Stages Live Tour,” is celebrating “a music theater repertoire, songs that mean a lot to me.” He opened with “Pure Imagination” from “Willy Wonka” – a less-trippy interpretation, to be sure. But the memory of wide-eyed Gene Wilder? Unshakable. The singer, accompanied by solo pianist, waved his arm for a big reveal: an orchestra behind him.
Despite claiming to be “off his rocker, off his meds,” Groban was solid, his baritone rich and nuanced. His inter-song banter, or, as he stated “long story long,” is gracious; audience members were thanked for their continued support.
After asking where audience members were from (“How many of you are from Darien Lake? Oh, three of you!”), he asked “How many people stumbled into the show playing Pokemon Go?”
Groban praised the talents of late composer/mentor Marvin Hamlisch, who wrote the set’s next number, “What I Did for Love.” Mentioning that he performed the song (from “A Chorus Line”) at Hamlisch’s memorial service, it also “Put a bug in (his) mind to make a musical theater record.”
For “Old Devil Moon,” a selection from the musical “Finian’s Rainbow,” Groban brought from the wings high school student/ace trumpet player Aaron DuBois, who lives in Baldwinsville, near Syracuse. The 17-year-old received a well-deserved ovation for his strong solo parts.
Strolling on stage for her own set, cup of tea in hand, McLachlan sat at her piano and, ironically (and unnecessarily, based on the adulatory shouts upon seeing her) said “Hello, good evening, my name is Sarah McLachlan.”
Throughout her set, she switched from solo piano to solo guitar. Wisely, she opened with one of her best songs, early-1990s “Possession.” A parade of her hits of the same vintage followed, her too-short set peppered with newer, family-inspired material: “Beautiful Girl” for her two daughters and “Song for My Father.”
McLachlan, whose body and voice remain graceful, ended her set sweetly: “This is my very first instrument,” she said, “I took ukulele lessons when I was four.” Strumming spare chords, “The Sound that Love Makes” was her closer and her last lyrical line hung in the summertime air: “I love you.”
Playing first was Irish singer Vance, who would introduce himself throughout his set. “Good evening, open your hymn books to page 355,” he said, and he was off to an ultra-Americana set of originals, accompanied by kicky drums. Vance switched gears and closed with an ultra-mournful rendition of Prince’s mega-hit “Purple Rain,” purple stage lights shining upon him.