InDepth InterView: Ramin Karimloo Talks SubCulture Shows, New EPs, LES MISERABLES, PHANTOM & More
Today we are talking to an electrifying live performer who has made a major mark in the theatrical realm with his work as the title character in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA AT THE ROYAL ALBERT HALL - PHANTOM 25 for short - as well as the originator of the role in its musical sequel, LOVE NEVER DIES - to say nothing of his long-standing and upcoming association with LES MIERABLES - at the O2, in the West End, in Toronto this Fall and beyond - the one and only Ramin Karimloo. Espousing on the many major musical theatre roles he has essayed thus far as well as what he would like to take on in the future, Karimloo grants us unprecedented access into his background and illustrates his experiences participating in some already classic once-in-a-lifetime events, such as PHANTOM 25 and LES MIZ at the 02 to name but two examples. Most importantly, Karimloo clues us in on what we can expect from his series of shows this week at SubCulture as well as explains the history and future plans for his Broadway and Bluegrass - aka Broadgrass - tour and album project. Additionally, Karimloo discusses the finer points of his forthcoming headlining role as Jean Valjean in the Toronto kick-off of the brand new LES MISERABLES revival and shares his memories of appearing on the Academy Awards this year with the film's cast, headlined by Hugh Jackman. Also, Karimloo offers first news on his upcoming series of EPs, reflects on his past solo albums and how they each developed, as well as comments on his recent UK TV recurring role on THE SPA ROOM and desire to pursue more TV/film work in the future, as well as shares his enthusiasm for GLEE and much, much more!
More information on Ramin Karimloo at SubCulture August 1 through August 3 is available at the official site here.
For more information on Ramin Karimloo, visit his official site here.
Till We Hear Him Sing
PC: Have you ever played Joe in SUNSET BOULEVARD? You seem like a great fit for that role.
RK: I did, actually - for about a week! [Laughs.]
PC: What happened?
RK: Well, I played Artie Green [in the 2002 UK tour] for about five weeks and they then needed a Joe. So, I went in at the last minute and auditioned and I remember they just sort of dropped the script in front of me one day a little after that - while I was still playing Artie - and said, "You're going on as Joe Gillis in 12 days!"
PC: That's not a lot of time to prepare!
RK: It wasn't. But, you know, I was just thinking, "Oh, all right - how hard could it be?" [Dramatic Pause.] Holy crap! He doesn't leave the stage for almost all of Act One! [Laughs.]
PC: It's a huge role.
RK: He's always onstage! It took me twelve days just to learn the right words for the song "Sunset Boulevard", let alone the whole part.
PC: That song is deceptively difficult, too. It's a maze.
RK: It is. It's constantly changing! But, what I love about it, too, is that it is never a repeating chorus - the story keeps moving and so does the song. But, yeah, it's a great song - and, that's a great part to play. That's definitely one I'd like to return to someday.
PC: The two AIDA songs on your first album are spectacular. Is Radames another part you would like to play onstage?
RK: I love that score - I would love to do that show. I don't know what happened with that - why it never came to London or really went anywhere else after Broadway.
PC: Your recording of "Radames' Letter" is exceptional.
RK: Oh, jeez, that's so funny you mention that, Pat, because we were just working out the set-list for these SubCulture shows and trying to decide whether or not to include "Radames' Letter". Every show, every night, is a different set-list for us - even if it is just one or two songs that changes. So, I always feel like, with "Radames' Letter", it is just so short and sweet that it fits in really well.
PC: On the topic of Tim Rice lyrics, your "Anthem" from CHESS is also splendid. Would you ever play The American, though?
RK: Oh, yeah - for sure; at least if I could sing it! [Laughs.]
PC: That's another tough one to crack, surely.
RK: That's another score I really love, though, too. Since you mention it, I was actually offered The American a couple of times for some previous productions they have done of CHESS and I remember I went in and auditioned once, too...
PC: What was that experience like for you?
RK: Well, they said, you know, "Bring a rock song," and I thought, "I'm not going to do anything but the song;" you know, the song, "Pity The Child". If I can't sing "Pity The Child" then there is no point in me doing the role.
PC: How was it?
RK: Well, I kind of surprised myself, I have to admit. I was like, "Wow!" So, yeah - I'd love to do it. It could be a lot of fun to play The American.
PC: Josh Groban recently told me he is hoping to star in a Broadway revival in the near future, so you could be in luck!
RK: Wow - that's so interesting; I didn't know that about a new version. I am very curious to see what version they have decided on doing because CHESS is sort of an enigma to me - again, the music is just unbelievable and I think it has an interesting story, but for some reason it just doesn't seem to translate.
PC: There's a disconnect when it is performed onstage sometimes.
RK: Yeah - exactly. I mean, I hope they could do like PIPPIN did and have a new definitive version of it like on Broadway now.
PC: What about Sondheim? Do you have a desire to sing any of his material?
RK: I sang some Sondheim in my recent tour of Asia, but, listen, this is really the thing - I don't actually know very much about musical theatre in general! I mean, I am the guy who hadn't seen THE WIZARD OF OZ until recently - I'd never even heard Judy Garland sing. It's sacrilege in one way to even admit it, but, at the same time, I am constantly learning new things. I mean, for instance, when I saw PIPPIN about two months ago, going in I didn't know anything about it - none of the music or anything; and, I was blown away! I was like, "Wow!" Musical theatre - or music theatre, as we say - is not something I grew up with or ever really wanted to do. I didn't study it - I am not learned in that way. It's not even on my iPad now, musical theatre - but, I love to do it! I really, really love to do it.
PC: You like doing it rather than studying it.
RK: Yeah! I mean, I guess I like to sort of save it for the right time when...
PC: Do you listen to a lot of music in general at home when relaxing?
RK: Oh, yeah! I am always listening to bluegrass and stuff.
PC: You are freer with your interpretations of roles not having a big theatre background, obviously. That's interesting.
RK: I think that's true. Sierra [Boggess] actually kept saying to me on this tour that we just did - and I think it's one of the reasons why we connect - "Ramin, you can't change this!" and, I'm always like, "Why not? Why can't we try?"
PC: As I told Sierra at the time, you two make Chekhov out of that material - the acting is absolutely incredible. You had played the role in the West End prior to PHANTOM 25, yes?
RK: Yes. I played the role when I was 26 or 27 and I participated in the 20th anniversary - the first big anniversary. So, after that, I was sort of done with it. When it came about - when they asked me to do it - I was sort of shocked that they thought to consider me. But, in terms of taking liberties, I guess I don't really think about that - I mean, I don't think, "Oh, I'm going to change this," or "I am going to sing this part differently," I just do it! I follow the instinct of the moment - and, then, I get to see how people react to it and then I can determine if it worked. Like just now when you reminded me of that great quote of yours - obviously, what I did worked for you. So, it's great to hear, "Oh, I saw that in a new way; I never expected that."
PC: How did the whole particular process work for PHANTOM 25 given that it was live?
RK: Well, we went in and we were sort of guided all along and we refined things in the rehearsal time that we had. And, all along, I was always trying to fulfill my instincts - you know, I always do a lot of paperwork before I put something on its feet and I wanted to honor all of that with my performance in the show, in how I see the character. If I am allowed to go with my interpretation, I will keep running with it. I always think that I can come to the table with everything I can possibly bring, but, at the end of the day, the director is in charge - he is at the helm. So, I see it as I am there trying to make believe something that is not reality - trying to make his vision a reality.
PC: Michael Crawford was very impressed with your performance and remarked to me as such after PHANTOM 25. Were you familiar with his iconic original performance?
RK: Oh, of course! I mean, the thing is, I have always been a huge PHANTOM phan - so, honestly, I was there just as much as a fan as I was to be greatly blessed to be one of the leads in the show, too. But, Michael Crawford... [Pause. Sighs.] he really inspired me - as did Colm Wilkinson, who was the first Phantom I saw. PHANTOM with them changed my life - it really did. So, I guess I don't really draw on those performances any more because I am sort of like a sponge so I would end up mimicking things they did, I think - but, definitely, they are the ultimate reference for the role. Obviously, I'd be a fool not to be inspired by the man who created the role and I totally am - and Colm Wilkinson, too.
PC: Your versions of the two big PHANTOM and LOVE NEVER DIES anthems on your most recent album are so spectacular - are those your personal favorite performances of those songs?
RK: Well, listen, this is the thing - I hate recording! [Laughs.] I like live - I like things to be live; and, I think the best of me is live. But, I have to say, I am recording an EP right now and I am learning so much...
PC: "New York State Of Mind" is a great track off your first EP, WITHIN THE SIX SQUARE INCH. How did that first come about?
RK: Well, that EP was basically my agent said, "Why don't you do some recording?" and I said, "Sure! Let's give it a shot." That was basically it - so, everyday, going in, it would be, you know, deciding en route to the studio what we were going to record that day. "New York State Of Mind" was decided upon en route - it really was; it was one of those. But, that album we don't touch as much these days in our live shows except for "Radames' Letter" - and, you know, every time I do a song it is different anyway; over the years, the way you do them changes and evolves. As far as that first EP goes, though, I can definitely say that a lot of those songs would sound a heck of a lot different if we recorded them now!
PC: Your Sony solo album is packed with great original songs - tell me first about "Cathedrals". What atmosphere.
RK: Well, Pat, there's your answer! That's what it is, more or less - it tells a story and has a feeling behind it. I think that's why Broadgrass speaks to who I am as a solo artist so much - because it brings together Broadway and bluegrass and I love both but am really neither. You know, I've never done Broadway and I'm an Iranian guy who somehow strums the banjo - but, I am inspired so much by both!
PC: What a way to describe it!
RK: [Laughs.] It's great storytelling, though - "Cathedrals"; it all is. Some of those songs on that album are very orchestrated and produced, so when we do those songs in these live shows we just do them with guitar and piano and it's just as beautiful to me - maybe even more beautiful. That's what I love about these live shows most of all, I think.
PC: Your live version of "Anthem" is so innovative. Did that arrangement come about just strumming your banjo, as it were?
RK: With "Anthem", I was sitting at home and thinking "Oh, I love that song. How can I Broadgrass this song?" And, so, I found the song and figured out that it was pretty easy, so I could play the chords - because I am not a great musician. Then, it's like - and it's the same for "Empty Chairs At Empty Tables" [from LES MISERABLES] when we put a banjo on it - you never want to lose the drama of the song, so "Anthem" has got to have this regal march feel to it because it is actually an anthem. So, I was like, "What if we added that sort of Mumford & Sons 12/8 beat and give it a try?" And, so we did and it worked. Then, we added some harmonies and stuff and I realized, "Hey, this is a lot of fun!" Because, you know, I want to have fun in my live concerts, too!
PC: Expectedly so.
RK: But, I'm glad you mentioned it because it has inspired a lot of other songs now - you know, for instance, right now I am thinking, "Hmm. What can we do with 'Memory' from CATS? How can we make that work? What about FIDDLER ON THE ROOF?" So, if I tour again after this, there is a lot more I would like to do - so, who knows, maybe we will tour again next year. Musical theatre - the songs are great songs. In the days before rock n roll, that was the music of the people - they were singing Cole Porter and Irving Berlin; musical theatre.
PC: What do you think of the great rock opera scores like JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR and TOMMY? You seen ideal for both.
RK: Hmm. That's interesting you say that. I would like to do "Could We Start Again Please" in my live shows sometime - that's a great song that I really like.
PC: Have you considered duetting with any former Phantoms in the future? I saw you posted a Peter Joback video on Twitter...
RK: Yes! Actually, we are great friends, Peter and I - and, I am a big fan of his, of course. We are going to be meeting up while I am in New York and hopefully we will be recording something. If it comes off, we'll share it; if it doesn't, then we will have spent a nice afternoon together. [Laughs.]
PC: Will you be performing any Mumford & Sons at SubCulture - "White Blank Page" perhaps?
RK: Holy sh*t! I can't believe you asked about that. Yes! We actually just put that back on the list - I mean, it's such a stripped-back show. We've got a guy on guitar, banjo and mandolin; me on guitar and banjo; another guy on guitar; and, then a guy on piano - so, I thought, "Oh, we could really strip this back and do a really haunting version of it." And, so, yeah, we will probably be putting "White Blank Page" back in for the SubCulture shows.
PC: What about some other recent live favorites of yours - "Murder In The City" maybe?
RK: Oh, well, those songs - things like "Murder In The City" - we usually only put in if the moment comes, you know?
PC: If you are moved to perform them.
RK: Right. Even "Music Of The Night" and "Till I Hear You Sing" - if I am not feeling it that night, I am not going to sing it. For me, I hate the word "expectations" and, while it might upset people, I would rather give them 100% of my heart every time I sing it rather then 50% because I have to sing the song. So, the set-list changes all the time and so do the versions of the songs. You know, I'd hate to do a version of the song that my heart really isn't in and disappoint them - especially because there are so many songs to choose from! I think we are in a great position that way.
PC: Part of what makes PHANTOM 25 so alive and compelling is the sense of experimentation and daringness and risk - it seems that is an elemental part of performance for you. Is the risk always worth it or have you had some bad turns?
RK: Always - always - take the risk! The only time that I feel something doesn't work is whenever I start listening to myself or second-guessing myself - it's like being in a rehearsal room with mirrors; if you can see yourself, then you are sort of out of the moment. You can't watch it and be in the moment at the same time, you know?
PC: A very instructive point.
RK: I always say to people that some of the best times I have performed have been when I have gone in sick - you know, you have a sore throat or whatever and you just say, "Eh, whatever will be, will be," and you just do it; you don't expect anything of yourself, you just do your best. That is when I have found that I give the best performances - otherwise, I am too worried about, "Oh, did I push that note right," or "Did that come across?" or whatever. It's about telling the story - it's about real life - and the moment that I stop worrying about what other people think, suddenly I felt a lot more free and I started enjoying myself. I mean that. But, yeah, to answer your question about Sondheim roles from earlier, now that I think of it, Bobby in COMPANY - that's a Sondheim role I'd like to play someday.
PC: So, you're basically saying then that being sick is the secret to greatness - and, no expectations.
RK: [Laughs.] No expectations! I mean, the perfect example is LOVE NEVER DIES...
PC: You can say that again!
RK: There are a hundred ways that you could have told that story - and, all of them are valid. But, this is the one that was chosen and this is the one that we did - you can't change that to fit what people want or expect, you know? Of course, especially with big shows like that, people will always come to them with expectations anyway - and that's fine; you can have them - but I don't think, as artists, we should take that into account really. I think we should be brave in what we do and hope that people will like it - and, if not; well... [Pause.] life goes on!
PC: Would you consider going back to either PHANTOM or LOVE NEVER DIES? Or, what about performing them in rep someday? The Australian version of the sequel was very satisfying.
RK: So many people say that, don't they?! As you might know, that version that they did down in Australia was exactly the same version of the show - the same script and score - that we performed for the last two weeks in London. The show developed so much after we opened - so much. I mean, I remember we had rehearsals to put new changes in two weeks before closing and being like, "Are you kidding me?!" [Laughs.]
PC: That's hilarious.
RK: Yeah, it was crazy - but, it was great to do, too.
PC: Was it invigorating as an actor to continue to work on the show so much, even after it had officially opened?
RK: Well, first, the thing is that I had sworn off playing the Phantom again - and, I just recently did this concert tour with Sierra and we ended up doing a whole sequence from PHANTOM. Going into it, I thought, "Oh, OK, we're just going to stand there and sing," but, as we did it, we ended up playing the scene - without any props or without any gimmicks - and it suddenly all came flooding in to me, like, "Holy crap! There is some unfinished business here."
PC: The book is not closed on PHANTOM and LOVE NEVER DIES, then.
RK: If Sierra is doing it with me, I would do them again - yeah.
PC: Would you play the Phantom again if it becomes a trilogy?
RK: Well, I think that, as far as PHANTOM goes, if Sierra is Christine, then I would be more than willing to be the Phantom again. Sure.
PC: Did you find that the way LOVE NEVER DIES ended in the West End was a disappointment - closing at a loss and not transferring further? Did you feel satisfied with your journey with the show?
RK: Well, I loved doing LOVE NEVER DIES, but I guess it was just one of those things - it was such a shame. I mean, I saw standing ovations every night, but, also, I know that it wasn't full, either. So, shows these days are hard enough to sell as it is, and, now, with social media - even if it is completely positive - sometimes over-hype doesn't help the matter either. So, it was just a weird situation. You can spend all day trying to pinpoint why this worked or why that didn't, but, at the end of day, it was just one of those things. So, those that saw it, I hope they enjoyed it; and, those that were in it, I hope they had a good time doing it. And, there's a tour happening next year, apparently, so I hope the show shall continue.
PC: "Love lives on." It hasn't arrived on Broadway yet either.
RK: That's true. And, I think that part of the reason why it hasn't played Broadway yet is because of its history. Plus, look at how hard it is for shows to get on Broadway these days - look at REBECCA and all the business problems with that; it's a really tough industry. But, I think everything is on the up-and-up right now so hopefully there will be a future for the show and it can find a home on Broadway someday.
PC: Speaking of your recent Asian tour, will you be reprising your Japanese cover of "Reminder" that you posted on YouTube at SubCulture?
RK: Oh, that's a great idea! I should do that "Reminder" that we did in Japanese. I think people might like that.
PC: Your LES MISERABLES at the 02 and tour co-star Lea Salonga is such a fan of your work - rightly so. Is it mutual?
RK: Oh, I adore Lea - she is just a legend in her own right. She is so much fun to work with and we just had a blast on tour together recently.
PC: Another fabulous leading lady you have performed together with so brilliantly is Kerry Ellis. Are you a fan, as well?
RK: Oh, I love Kerry - yeah, that was a lot of fun to do that. We actually did a version of "Somewhere" that I really liked and I think that was the start of something really good - I'd love to record the song in that sort of style like we did it; I'd love to record it with her, too. I remember being there and being like, "Man! I wish we had more time to develop this and some other songs." Kerry is a great artist in her own right - as I'm sure you know.
PC: Given her affiliation with Brian May, maybe some Queen?
RK: Oh, that's funny you say that because I actually did "Bohemian Rhapsody" one year for WEST END MEN.
PC: Was that a challenge?
RK: I was like, "All right, I'm just gonna close my eyes and hope for the best that these notes come out!" [Laughs.]
PC: In addition to bluegrass, what kind of music do you listen to for enjoyment on your own - either listening or singing?
RK: Oh, well, right now, I have been taking a little rest - and, for me, rest is rest - so I haven't been singing a lot, but I have been playing around with that old traditional hymn "Wayfaring Stranger". You know, [Sings.] "I am a poor wayfaring stranger / Traveling through...." And, so, I like to jam to stuff like that. I love the Jack White version of that, especially - that's the one, for me. I love listening to Johnny Cash, too. Also, The Avett Brothers new album CARPENTER is just beautiful - it's musical art.
PC: Is there a future for your musical collaborations with your friend and frequent former co-star Hadley Fraser?
RK: Listen, this is how it works with me and Hadley: we both start working on something and we get really pumped and then one of us or both of us get a job and we have to put it off another year. [Laughs.]
PC: The wicked ways of fate - and showbiz!
RK: It is definitely something we both want to do, but there is only so much time in a year, you know? So, he goes off to do a play and I sit idle and put together a tour and then I go into show and he is off - it's especially tough now because I am in Canada for the next seven or eight months with LES MISERABLES.
PC: Is there an official end-date for your run as Valjean in the new LES MIZ revival?
RK: No, I actually don't know when I finish as Valjean at the moment. Right now, though, to be honest, I am just really focused on getting my voice in perfect shape and growing this beard... [Laughs.]
PC: If things go well in Toronto, are you under consideration for the Broadway revival, as well?
RK: Well, as far as I know, that's not on the cards for me - and, there's other things on the calendar now, too. So, I will for sure be there as a fan to watch because it is going to be a great, great version of LES MISERABLES - I can definitely tell you that! What we are starting in Canada and the momentum that the show will carry to Broadway is just going to be phenomenal. I saw the new version of the show in Korea and I have to say that it is a whole new LES MIZ - and, I cried like a baby! There is something about the Far East that brought so much to it - I don't know what it is; they have a spirituality and a way of culture that translates onto LES MIZ so beautifully. And, I have to admit, I went to see it a little reluctantly - you know, it's my day off and it's a show I am about to do for eight months or whatever. It was so beautiful and I was so glad that I went to see it there.
PC: What are your personal favorite moments onstage as Valjean, particularly having played it in the West End before?
RK: [Pause. Sighs.] Well, first of all, Valjean is another part that I did not particularly want to play - and, again, I am so glad that I got convinced to do it! I guess I would say that the parts I love the most in the show are all the little scenes of Valjean interacting - as opposed to the "Soliloquy" and "Bring Him Home", which are great moments; but, I love learning who he is with other people. I mean, seeing him with Cosette in the garden during "In My Life" - I love those moments; things like that. Or, another is the moments with the Thenardiers - I love those. Probably my favorite moment in the show is the scene with the Bishop that leads up to the "Soliloquy" - that is the pivotal part of the storytelling to me, at least as far as my Valjean goes. That's the part of the book where I found my confidence and my way around the character and the moment when I decided I wanted to play him.
PC: Was reading the book particularly insightful for you?
RK: Oh, yeah - I've read it twice now, actually. I am going through it again now, too - and, I have to admit that I am not a great reader so I have to work a little bit harder at it. What I do is I got it on audio book so I listen and read along with it - and, I have to say, the images that come into my head doing it that way, hearing it... [Pause.]
PC: That is the best memorization technique, they say.
RK: It is! It is - I know it must be. I've got in front of my eyes, going over it with a highlighter and a voice reading it in my ear - that's the best way I have found to really get under his skin and try to find out who he is. For me, there are a few very distinct Valjeans - and, it's all in the way he moves; the way he ages; the physical characteristics. You know, he's a man of means who is still strong and agile for his age, after all...
PC: Norm Lewis recently told me that playing Javert a few times now has made him want to play Valjean someday. Do you feel the same? Would you be open to playing Javert?
RK: Oh, definitely - especially now that I've seen what Hadley did with the role! And, what I saw in Korea. Both really inspired me.
PC: So, after the Toronto run, what are your immediate post-LES MISERABLES plans at this time?
RK: Well, I think I am pretty much a free agent after that. My agent and my manager want me to move to LA and see if I can get some work out there, so that will be exciting - I think we are going to be giving that a shot.
PC: You recently had an arc on a UK TV series, THE SPA ROOM, correct?
RK: Oh, that was so much fun, man! I played the Greek manager of the spa - which was really fun to do. As for LA, though, I have had some opportunities to do some things before, but I really feel like it has to be the right thing - if I am moving my whole family out there, it has to be for something creatively inspired; hopefully, it will be the right thing at the right time. For me, it is all about diversity - look at all these crossovers these days!
PC: The performing arts are everywhere.
RK: They are! They are. Whatever I do, I want to learn more - so, if it's Broadway, it's Broadway; if it's TV, it's TV. Right now, I know that I have a lot of support on the other side of the pond - clearly, given that you and I are speaking today - and I am excited for people over here to see me. I am so excited to get to be here and work with some of the great talent that is here - like Raul Esparza and Norbert Leo Butz and Sierra and all of these great directors, too.
PC: What about a straight dramatic or comedic role someday?
RK: Oh, definitely - I would love to play Stanley in [A] STREETCAR [NAMED DESIRE]. That's a play I would really, really love to do - though I don't know how age-appropriate I would be now! [Laughs.]
PC: Speaking of getting into character, is it true you have a new diet/workout plan in place to play Valjean?
RK: Yes, I do. You see, the thing about Valjean is that he was so agile and had such dexterity, so I am doing specific work-outs to target that - I just want to feel strong and supple like he is. He is stronger than anyone else around him, after all, as you know - and, he obviously had the wherewithal to keep himself fit.
PC: Plus, Hugh Jackman just played the role...
RK: Of course! That's a whole other comparison to live up to right there! [Laughs.]
PC: What was it like appearing on the Oscars with Hugh Jackman and the cast of LES MISERABLES for the big medley?
RK: It was amazing. I loved that whole LA week so much - especially working with the company. Having those 10 minutes with Hugh, though - I mean, there we were, just talking about the character and the cameras were all there snapping away at us. It was so encouraging to me, what he said - he told me about his process and I felt like, "Oh, yeah! I've done that! I do that! I'm gonna do that!" So, it was great to talk to him about it - I mean, you couldn't ask for two different Valjeans [than us]!
PC: You go at it quite a bit differently.
RK: Yeah, but, it was great to talk to him about it - and, I love how we put it all together and made it all work. It was an amazing event to be a part of - and, also, a lot of people saw it!
PC: On the subject of LES MIZ, I was curious how you got involved with LES MIZ at the 02 in the first place?
RK: You see, all of these things - PHANTOM 25, LES MIZ at the 02, LOVE NEVER DIES - happened by accident. They really did. They are not things I auditioned for or sought out in any way. So, when I heard they were doing LES MIZ at the 02, I remember thinking "Oh, well, obviously they are going to get all big stars," so when my agent called a few days later and told me they wanted me for Enjolras and that he had already been working on the deal for the last five days, I was like, "What?!" [Laughs.]
PC: What a pleasant surprise!
RK: And, then - and this is one of the reasons I still love this business and still feel like a kid; now, more than ever - is that then he said, "And you are going to get paid such and such," and all I said was, "Wait - and, I'm getting paid?!" I was just happy to be doing the show at all! [Laughs.]
PC: You would have worked for free!
RK: Yeah! I just wanted to be there with all of the stars of the show - a lot of my closest friends were on that stage with me and it was a really great thing to be a part of. I was really proud of that performance and I think it turned out to be a really memorable experience for every one of us.
PC: When Cameron Mackintosh recently did this column we discussed the upcoming MISS SAIGON revival. You've played Chris before, have you not?
RK: Yes! I did. I had the best time playing Chris - one of the best times of my life was playing Chris in MISS SAIGON. That and Valjean are two of my favorite characters I have played, actually - and the Phantom, too, of course. As for the revival, though, I think I'm probably not the right age anymore, but I will definitely be there in the audience!
PC: MARTIN GUERRE is another Boublil & Schonberg show in the offing for a revival in the relatively near future with a new rewrite currently underway. What about that part?
RK: Oh, well, I'd love to play that. I remember that Cameron mentioned something to me about that before, actually, and at the time I just was like, "Well, then, get it done, man!" It would be a great show to revive now, I think. It's a special time I think for all of us in the theatre trying to branch out.
PC: Indeed. What are your thoughts on the performing arts renaissance in general - thanks in no small part to GLEE?
RK: Oh, I think it's wonderful. It's amazing. Shows like GLEE and SMASH and these big Hollywood-made movie musicals like LES MIZ have brought a lot more attention to all of us, I think - and, you know, people might want to criticize them or whatever but I think it's so amazing that they have brought awareness of the theatre to so many kids out there, around the world. And, also, there are so many more opportunities for actors in film coming from theatre - it's just had a really wonderful effect in general, I think.
PC: With PHANTOM 25 and LES MIZ at the 02 broadcast in movie theaters worldwide, as well.
RK: Oh, yeah - all of it. It all contributes. I remember when I was in PHANTOM, people would say to me after the show, "Oh, we came to see this because we loved Gerard Butler in the film version," and they are just as excited about seeing it as a phan would be, you know? So, I think that's great that there is such support out there for these things - how can things like that, inspiring people to come and see shows, be a bad thing?
PC: It can't. PHANTOM 25 on Blu/DVD will be many people's first introduction to the show now. What do you think of a responsibility like that? It was a huge risk, but it paid off.
RK: For me, fame means nothing - what little I have or don't have, I don't care. But, if people come to know me through something like that then I am really proud. I am so proud of being a part of that - and also so proud of the work done in it by Sierra and Hadley and the company. So, if that is how people first get to know me or the first time they see me in something? That is such an honor - I am so proud of that show. That was blood, sweat, tears and a lot of care. And, it's amazing that it's had such an afterlife.
PC: One more thing I wanted to ask you about was performing both the American and Canadian national anthems at Yankee Stadium a few months ago. You were the first to do it, right?
RK: Oh, yeah - that was such an honor! It was so funny, though, because whenever I would tell people that I was going to be doing it - you know, "Oh, I am going to be singing both national anthems at Yankee Stadium!" - people would always say, "Don't mess it up! Whatever you do, don't mess it up! Don't forget the words!" and I was always like, "Why you gotta say that?!" So, for me, I was nervous up until I actually got out on the field. Once I did the sound check in this big open field and I got a sense of the sound, I was excited. I had done my work - I had done my homework - so I just didn't worry about it anymore and just did it in the moment and it was such an honor. I felt so privileged to be able to do it. And, I hadn't sung the American national anthem before, so when they asked me to do both I was a little bit nervous...
PC: Those are not easy lyrics to learn, to say the least.
RK: They are not. When I agreed to do it, I said to the Yankee Organization, "I am not riffing, I am not rapping, I am just going to do it exactly as written - straight and proud. These are anthems and I am here to be an ambassador," and, they said, "Great!"
PC: It's the ultimate example of doing each pristinely live.
RK: Thank you for saying that. You know, I just let the words and the history do the work - I am just there, in the moment.
PC: What is your favorite of all the memorable live moments you have had so far that live on now on video?
RK: Well, you know, I don't really have a favorite - I can't! I mean, I can tell you every little detail about LES MIZ, but PHANTOM 25 is always right there - and, then, you know, there's MISS SAIGON, which I loved doing, too. So, they are all there sort of hand-in-hand together, I think.
PC: It's time for MISS SAIGON 25, anyway, after all - isn't it?!
RK: I know, man! Right?! [Laughs.] I'm ready! I've gotta do my third one and then I'll have a trilogy of 25th anniversaries!
PC: Do you see LES MIZ at the 02 your big international break or was it something else?
RK: Well, I think LOVE NEVER DIES is what first really got my name out there - because there was so much hype around it and everything. And, then, you know, LES MIZ at the 02 had Nick Jonas who just has this huge international audience and some of them spilled over to us - the mere mortals beside him!
PC: What a way to put it! He is a Jo Bro, after all.
RK: And, I've gotta say, man - nicest guy on the planet. He is one of the biggest stars you could have beside you in an arena like that, but one of the nicest guys, too.
PC: So, what immediately follows the SubCulture gigs for you before you head into rehearsals for LES MISERABLES in Toronto?
RK: These New York shows are my last Broadgrass shows except for one more show I am doing in my hometown, so I don't know when I will be touring again after this. I've just recorded my next EP because I want to release some EPs instead of a new album next. I am looking to do four to six EPs of four to six songs each.
PC: What a great idea!
RK: Yeah - it's really honoring both my songwriting and the Broadgrass project.
PC: Can you give us some samples of what we can expect?
RK: Well, I guess it's OK for me to tell you one or two: we have recorded a Broadgrass arrangement of "Empty Chairs At Empty Tables" that I really like. We did this cool rockabilly version of "Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin'" too. "Anthem" will be on one of them, too, I am hoping - there is this Swedish band that I would love to have behind me on it. I mean, what could be better behind you on an anthem from CHESS than a Swedish folk band?! Speaking of which, I was singing at this wedding recently and Benny Andersson was there and I was just about to sing and I saw him and it was like [Sings "Bring Him Home".] "God on high - holy sh*t!" [Laughs.]
PC: What a great memory. What other songs will be on the EPs? "Broken"? "Losing"? "The People's Song"?
RK: Yes, "Broken" and "Losing Out" are two that I am ready to record. And "The People's Song" is a great Mumford & Sons song that I'd love to record, too - that would be a lot of fun to do with the Swedish band, actually.
PC: Will each EP have a theme?
RK: Yeah, I think I have a title for all four and they will transition into each other - it's basically the story of Broadgrass. Broadgrass sort of happened by accident and I sort of feel like I have this whole genre I am in now - which I love because it is a whole world to explore; I mean, I am not trying to be a pop star, but I get to love what I am doing while I am doing it. I don't see why you have to leave theatre to do Broadgrass and I don't see why I have to leave Broadgrass to do theatre, you know?
PC: They can co-exist. What is your number one request in live shows these days?
RK: "Desperado". I get asked to do "Desperado" all the time. I love that song, but I have to get the right arrangement. For me, I have to feel like I have lived a song to perform it live. So, for "Desperado", I feel like I haven't lived it yet, so I can't really do it justice. And, also, "Till I Hear You Sing" I haven't been singing recently because I can't seem to find a way to make it resonate without a big orchestra - and, as I said before, I'd rather not do something than do it not as good as it should be. For me, it's not like a cabaret or some background music at a club, you know? I want to do something that resonates with people.
PC: You used to sing some LAST FIVE YEARS material in your theatre-themed shows. What about bringing back some of that, especially with the new movie coming out soon?
RK: Oh, wow! I can't believe you know about that - yeah, I love, love, love that show. That's a show I would love to do with Sierra someday actually, since you mention it.
PC: What an amazing show that would be!
RK: I actually sang "Moving Too Fast" in Japan and Lea [Salonga] sang "Still Hurting" on that tour, too. It was so much fun.
PC: As was this today, Ramin - and what an awesome last five years you have had! All my best luck to you on all your incredibly impressive upcoming endeavors, as well - SubCulture on!
RK: Thank you so much, too, Pat. This was really a joy to do and I appreciate it so much. I love BroadwayWorld. Bye.
Photo Credits: Walter McBride, Irene Davidson, Budiey, Facebook, Sony, Dewynters, etc.
From This Author Pat Cerasaro