BWW Special: Colm Wilkinson and Ramin Karimloo Thrill Toronto in Les Miserables
If you were a passerby outside The Princess of Wales Saturday night, you might have thought there was a rock concert going on inside. The audience reaction when Colm Wilkinson, the man who originated the role of Jean Valjean in Les Miserables, stepped on stage was nothing short of deafening. That level of energy continued throughout the night as Wilkinson performed alongside Ramin Karimloo, who was inspired to become a musical theatre performer after seeing Wilkinson in the original Canadian production of The Phantom of the Opera.
The one night only event came together more than a quarter century after Wilkinson originated the role of Valjean in London and on Broadway, and twenty four years after a young Ramin Karimloo took a school trip to see Toronto's production of The Phantom of the Opera. As the story goes, Karimloo reluctantly went to see the show and at the end proudly proclaimed to his classmates that one day, he would be 'The Phantom'.
'One day' came relatively early for Karimloo, who Toronto has adopted as a 'hometown hero' as his family immigrated here after fleeing Iran and he spent much of his formative years in the suburb or Richmond Hill. Shortly before his 25th birthday he was fulfilling his dream and performing as Raoul in London's production of The Phantom of the Opera, and he went on to play the title role as well.
He had massive success on the West End stage, starring and originating the role of 'The Phantom' in Love Never Dies before going on to tackle Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. However, despite years of critical acclaim (and thousands of devout fans) Karimloo had yet to perform on stage in the city that inspired him to become a musical theatre performer.
Enter Mirvish Productions and Cameron Mackintosh, who announced that they would 'bring him home' to be Toronto's Jean Valjean when the new 25th Anniversary Production launched in October of 2013. The city was thrilled, critics and audiences raved and soon Karimloo was announced to be moving to Broadway when the show opens there in March of 2014.
However, there was one last treat in store for Toronto audiences before Les Miserables leaves our great city for good in a few weeks. As Colm Wilkinson explained when he addressed Saturday's audience, Cameron Mackintosh 'took myself and my wife Dierdre out for lunch and asked me if I would perform the role of The Bishop for one night only in Les Miserables. He said David (Mirvish) would give us the house and the proceeds would go to charity. So of course I said yes."
And on Saturday night, the man who inspired Karimloo's dream and the dreams of many other musical theatre performers took to the stage at The Princess of Wales one more time. As he handed the candlesticks to Karimloo's Valjean you could hear a pin drop in the auditorium, and at curtain call Wilkinson wiped a tear from his eye as he embraced Karimloo.
The icing on the cake was hearing the two men sing the iconic 'Bring Him Home' together - a song written specifically for Wilkinson and one which is no easy feat to sing. They traded versus, with Wilkinson taking the line 'he's like the son I might have known, if God had granted me a son'... As he looked at Karimloo, the audience erupted in applause. They joined together until that final note, which Colm held like only he can do as the cast and audience watched in awe.
It was the definition of a 'once in a lifetime' theatrical experience, and one which will forever linger in Toronto's theatrical history canon. The fact that the proceeds went to charity only makes it that much greater. A dream was fulfilled tonight, not just for Karimloo, but I suspect for the vast majority of people on stage and for the audience as well. Get ready Broadway - Les Miserables is not to be missed.
For more details on the five charities that were being supported by this special performance, please visit their individual websites below: