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?