BWW Interviews: Ramin Karimloo on his First Toronto Bow in Les Miserables
Ramin Karimloo is no stranger to the stage, he's had an impressive career making a name for himself in productions such as The Phantom of the Opera, Love Never Dies and Les Miserables on the West End. That said, Karimloo has yet to perform in a production on a Toronto stage, despite spending most of his childhood growing up in Richmond Hill and attending Toronto theatre.
He has long been regaling folks with the story of how he first saw Colm Wilkinson as 'The Phantom' in Toronto on a school trip, and proceeded to tell his classmates that would be what he would do 'someday'. 'Someday' came when he landed in the UK and quickly rose to stardom in a number of various productions, including the coveted role of Phantom.
These performances led him to Cameron Mackintosh, who encouraged Karimloo to tackle the incredibly difficult role of Jean Valjean despite his young age. While hesitant at first, Karimloo accepted the offer and threw himself into the role, learning as much as he could about the character and working on his voice to tackle the difficult material. The critics embraced him, and now Mirvish Productions has brought him home to Toronto to lead the Canadian Premiere of the spectacular 25th Anniversary Production. BWW spoke with Ramin about what the Les Miserables experience means to him, what it's like to 'come home' and why he thinks people should see the new production.
Congratulations on the upcoming Canadian production of LES MISERABLES! How does it feel to be back in Valjean's shoes again?
Thank you. The good thing is it feels like I've never played this part before. Touring has really filled my calendar over the last little while. It was great to come to the role and have to learn it all again. Then you add the elements of the new production. It's allowed me to re-think my interpretation in parts. I'm really enjoying this.
Having played the role before, you know the demands and requirements of a difficult role such as Valjean. What have you been doing to prepare and do you feel like you're ready?
This time around I had a bit more time to prepare. Getting my head back into the novel was the best start. While touring with my music I started to physically change and be more disciplined with diet and fitness. There's a description in the novel about Valjean's physique and also how he maintained himself. That said a lot to me about the man's discipline and focus. How he had such dexterity and condition through all he suffered. I also had to take time to get this style of singing back in my voice. I've never been away from theatre for such a long time before.
This has been touted as a bit of a homecoming for you given that you grew up in Richmond Hill but have been performing in the West End. Does it feel like there's extra pressure being back where your Theatre Dreams began? Are you excited for friends and family to see the show?
Well I grew up in Peterborough and then did high school in Richmond Hill. As for it being a homecoming, I don't want to build this more than it is. I've been away for so long and so much has changed, it's a slightly odd feeling. But exciting all the same. Playing Valjean in a new production with a new cast was very thrilling and appealing for me. That takes enough of my focus and energy too. Being back in my old stomping ground is definitely a bonus. There's a lot of support for the show here. I don't see this having any more pressure than any other new production would have. I don't let my head get filled with the pressures or expectations. It's not helpful. Takes the fun out of it too.
This is a mostly Canadian cast (many of whom are getting their first taste of the 'new' version). Do you notice many differences between doing the show here and doing it in the UK?
Not really. Everyone seems to be a fan of the show everywhere we go. On and off stage. So there's a great amount of energy and eagerness. This being a new production as well, everyone get's a chance to contribute to their characters and make their own moulds. But to be honest, I think part of the many reasons why Les Miserables is a success, the creatives allow the actors to breathe some of their own life into the characters and define them in their own way. This cast certainly is no exception.
Given that you've done this show before, have you become a bit of a natural 'mentor' for some of the Newcomers to the show?
I doubt that. I just try and get stuck in as best I can and join in for this ride.
You've got a fantastic West End star (and former Phantom) in Earl Carpenter as your nemesis Javert - what's it like playing opposite him? Have you ever thought about switching roles? Is Javert a role you could (or would) like to tackle?
I would love to swap parts every other week or something along those lines. To be honest I always thought I would push to play Javert. Valjean was never something I thought about doing. It wasn't until Sir Cameron Mackintosh showed such faith and convinced me to give it a shot. I am so glad he did. I've never enjoyed a part as much. But I do have ideas about Javert. Having someone like Earl and his experience to play opposite not only brings up my game but also the company. He's very intelligent and a lot of fun to work alongside with.
Your debut solo CD 'Human Heart' is being officially released on the 24th of September - how did you enjoy that process? Given that it has a lot of original material do you think it will appeal to a 'musical theatre' crowd?
I did and I didn't. I was never a fan of being in a studio. I enjoy it a lot more now but I think it is all because of what started with this album. I have learned so much since and this album is dear to me because it really was the start of a whole new journey for me. For such a big production on an album I feel it still maintained a lot of intimacy and heart. It has some beautiful arrangements and I'm really happy with this album representing what I always called Chapter 1 of what's to come. Will it appeal to a 'musical theatre' crowd? Why not? They like music don't they? *laughs* Put it this way, if their iPads are full of only cast recordings - maybe not. But 'Human Heart' is lyrically driven and beautifully orchestrated. It's not targeted at any one particular demographic though. I just wanted to make a great album and see what evolved from there.
You had the opportunity to perform with the cast of the feature film version of LES MISERABLES when they were at last year's Academy Awards. What are your thoughts on the film? Do you think it will bring people to see this production?
Absolutely. It has. It's great seeing shows like this and Phantom get more and more people coming because they were inspired by their Hollywood films. It was great to see Les Miserables receive so many accolades throughout the film industry. It's an exciting time to be part of the show.
What have you been doing since coming back to Toronto? Have you had the chance to visit old haunts and/or discover new favourites?
I've been pretty busy since being back. Getting to play the Little Lake festival back in my hometown of Peterborough was a definite highlight of my summer. Was great to have my family there for that. Found a new great restaurant in Toronto, Vittorio's, which I hadn't been to before. My brother gave me that recommendation. I managed a little reunion with old high school friends one day, but other than that, it's been all about rehearsals.
Finally, for all those who've seen LES MISERABLES before, what would be the number one reason you would encourage them to come out and see it again? What is it about this new version that really resonates with you?
The star of the show will always be the story and the music. What I love about this version is how Matt Kinley has incorporated Victor Hugo's paintings to set the atmosphere as backdrops to the scenes. They've put even more heart of the original author into this show. It's breathtaking at times. Les Miserables will always resonate with people. It's real and it's a show that breaks your heart but leaves you inspired.
When and Where?
On stage now at The Princess of Wales (tickets currently on sale through to December 22nd, 2013.
Tickets can be purchased in person at the box office, by phone at 416-872-1212 or online at www.mirvish.com