Interview – Ramin Karimloo plays the London Palladium

RAMIN_KARIMLOOBroadway and West End star RAMIN KARIMLOO will be performing a one-off performance at the London Palladium with his band, Sheytoons, on Saturday 16 July.

The concert will feature a mix of musical theatre classics and his own ‘Broadgrass’ (a hybrid style inspired by his love of mainstream country and traditional bluegrass music) songs. Karimloo, who also plays the banjo and guitar, will perform with musicians Sergio Ortega, Hadley Fraser and Alan Markley and singer Katie Birtill on backing vocals.

The award-winning Iranian-Canadian actor, singer and musician originated the lead role in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sequel to The Phantom of the OperaLove Never Dies.

He returns to the UK fresh from success on Broadway where he was nominated for a Tony Award for his performance in Les Misérables.

Ramin’s other stage credits include: The Secret Garden (New York, Lincoln Center), Evita (Vancouver Opera), Les Misérables (West End and Broadway), Miss Saigon (UK tour), Sunset Boulevard (UK tour), The Phantom of the Opera (West End) and Prince of Broadway (international tour).

Ramin will join Kerry Ellis, Norman Bowman and Victoria Hamilton-Barritt for the West End opening of Murder Ballad in September, playing the Arts Theatre from 29 September until 3 December.

Tal Fox writes…

When did the idea of doing this concert come about? 

After the success of the London shows we had in January. They were thrown together last minute but sold out so quickly. We thought we had to come back and it would be nice to do a summer gig for once. So we had this window of opportunity, the band was around, and there was interest from a promoter. I thought let’s give it a shot, let’s do it.

Do you have a theme for the concert?

We thought about that, I always think ‘should we call it something?, but the charm of the other shows was that all of it was organic, it all happened by accident, so we don’t really want to dress it up. We just make it a hootenanny. I thought I was going to give it a theme, but the set list and the music are so eclectic and diverse. I thought it would be silly to pigeonhole it. Hootenanny is the only way I can describe it.

On paper, I always say this should be a disaster, these songs should not be going together, but somehow it works. The audience ends up having a great time, and that’s what I love about these crowds that come; we get the great supporters of mine who have been around for a while, who I’m eternally grateful for. Then you can see who has been dragged there, because you see their faces at the start thinking ‘I’m just doing this for my wife, or girlfriend, or kids’. And then at the end they’re having just as much fun because they didn’t expect a banjo to come on, they didn’t expect a song delivered the way it is, so it’s fun. It’s fun to see that happen throughout the show.

Ramin Karimloo at West End Live 2016

Ramin Karimloo at this year’s West End Live. Picture: Roy Tan

What can audiences expect from the concert? 

We describe it as kicking the theatre into bluegrass and putting the bluegrass into theatre. People say they don’t like country or they don’t listen to it, but when they hear it’s good music, it’s good storytelling, theatre is good storytelling.

That’s the point, these songs all tell stories, whether they’re happy, emotional or dark. When we match it with the set up of our band, it becomes a uniform sound. In my last gig we had bonafide bluegrass musicians joining us, including The Avett Brothers. Some of them didn’t know anything about theatre other than your typical shows like Phantom or Les Mis.

It’s quite an original sound.

We didn’t set out to really do any of this, I didn’t set out to get signed by Sony, I wasn’t looking to get a record deal or be a songwriter, I don’t think I am. People want to hear us sing, I’m an okay singer, I don’t even think of myself as a great singer. We just like to do what we and the fact that people want to join us is amazing, so we’ll try and be better every time. That’s our goal.

You say you”re not a great singer, I have to disagree.

Well you know it’s one of those things – one man’s treasure is another man’s trash. I don’t even think about stuff like that anymore. I used to worry about my voice. I just think this is what I’m doing in life right now, so all I can do is be better than yesterday.

When I do these concerts, I’m not singing for the masses, we put on a show that we feel like playing that day. That’s why we don’t stay married to set lists and that’s why I don’t print the set list in the programme, because I don’t know. I can’t tell you what I feel like singing on the day, but what we do try to do is give it 120%. I just know whatever we decide to sing that day, we’ll be completely behind the material.

RAMIN_KARIMLOO2Why the Palladium?

I’m asking myself the same thing! In a sense we were asking ‘why do they want us?’ I don’t know, it just came up. My management said they had a space free at the Palladium and did we fancy it?! At first I got seduced by the fact that it’s so historic and prestigious and I thought I’d dress it up with a production. Then I thought no, it’s a concert still, we are a band and we want the audience to feel like they’re part of that moment in time. So I’m just going to do what I do and know that I can tell my kids and grandkids: ‘Papa played at the London Palladium for his own show, how cool is that?’ This is unbelievable.

What do you prefer to do, show or concert? 

That’s hard because surprisingly the band has gone beyond our expectations. What’s beautiful about it is it’s our blood, sweat and tears,  but at the same time I keep reminding myself that acting is my first love. Without acting, I don’t think I’d be doing these concerts, because that’s what started it all off. I don’t think anything can compare to being part of a cast and creating a show that people are loving. I’m glad my career is diverse right now, I love that word, diverse. I put it out there after Les Mis that I wanted a bit of everything. I was worried about being diluted in different fields, but everything I learn from one project gets passed on to the next thing.

You’re performing a duet with Louise Dearman (Water Babies, Evita, Guys and Dolls). How did that come about? 

We’ve been friends for a while and she sang on my first album tour. I just love her personality, she’s a phenomenal artist and talent, but she’s so cool as well, so I’m lucky to have her onboard.

3. Ramin Karimloo as Valjean - photo Matthew Murphy

Ramin Karimloo in Les Miserables on Broadway. Picture: Matthew Murphy

Can you say anything about the songs you’ll be singing? 

I toyed with it on social media. I love the song ‘Could We Start Again Please?’ from Jesus Christ Superstar and I think Louise would kill it. I just need to make sure I can play it and see whether she likes it.

Now with Evita behind me, I can add a bit of that to the repertoire, so there’s some new things I’d like to add to the show and try out and not worry that it’s the London Palladium; it’s the band getting together to put on a great show.

What has been the highlight of your career so far? 

I’ve been really lucky to have a few amazing moments in my life. The hard work paid off and I was in the right show at the right time. I guess the one that sticks out is the 25th anniversary of Les Misérables – that changed everything. Love Never Dies is up there, Phantom’s 25th is up there, and Broadway of course, but the 25th anniversary of Les Mis was so special.

I was there as a fan of the show, to have fun with friends, and to celebrate a show we all love, one that inspired all aspects of the industry. That night I just said to myself: ‘forget everything you’ve ever done with the show and go and have fun, you’re there to join in the celebration’, and I got to sing next to my idol too. You can see it on my face, it’s unbelievable, my best friend is playing Grantire. You couldn’t make it up, but then the doors that opened because of the success of that night – which I didn’t for a second even anticipate – have been incredible. I’m forever grateful to Cameron [Mackintosh].

Is there anything you haven’t done that you still want to do? 

In general I want to keep the word diversity in my life so I want to crack TV and film and give that a go. I don’t think anything will ever rival theatre. There’s definitely shows I want to try, Sweeney Todd, Guido in Nine, Bobby in Company. I just want to work with people who will keep challenging me and make me better. I need to keep growing as an artist and take on projects that make me nervous, I should go for those things. I have done parts recently I know well, so it’s time to get uncomfortable.

Tickets for Ramin Karimloo are available HERE.

* The new Ramin Karimloo five-track EP should be available to buy, stock allowing, from 11 July. The Road To Find Out – South, The Brooklyn Sessions will be available to buy on iTunes and via this LINK.

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