BWW Interview: Ramin Karimloo & Celinde Schoenmaker Talk DOCTOR ZHIVAGO at Cadogan Hall
They lead the cast of a concert version of Doctor Zhivago, which will be performed at Cadogan Hall on 1 September. Ramin and Celinde spoke to BroadwayWorld about the show during their rehearsals.
How are rehearsals going?
Ramin: Celinde and I have had a couple of vocal calls and conversations with the creative team over the past few weeks.
Celinde: We started a few weeks ago because it's a whole show and not just a few songs for a concert. It's all new for me - I didn't know the show very well. I did know of another show though that Lucy Simon wrote, called The Secret Garden, so I knew she was one hell of a musician/writer. Today is the first time I've heard the ensemble stuff and it's absolutely mind-blowing. It's beautiful work.
In a nutshell, can you tell us what the story is about, for those not familiar with the book or the film?
Ramin: It's one of those things where if there's anything to do with Russian literature, there is no nutshell! What I can take from it is it's a beautiful and progressive love story - for its time.
Celinde: I think first and foremost it's a love story. There is a love triangle of sorts but there are other people involved, and it all happens with the Russian Revolution in the background.
How do you approach performing in a concert staging versus a fully staged show?
Celinde: I think you play the characters closer to yourself than usual. You're giving more of a wink. There's always a very fine line in concert between performing as yourself and where you start acting, for me.
Ramin: In a concert, you're still storytelling. I think it would make more sense if it was live on the radio, because concerts are really put on for the ears - hearing it live, less so the visual aspect of a show. I think if we try and make it more than it is without making it a fully-fledged show, you're going to end up in no man's land.
When presenting a new piece in this format, it's very important to let the melodies and lyrics do the work. As an actor, I sometimes prefer workshops where you have to imagine things. Everyone's version of the show is unique and there's no right or wrong. I think there's a beautiful thing that happens as an audience member when you're not spoon-fed everything.
Allowing that to happen and not be apologetic about it not being a full show is fine. Yes, we're using books, but it allows you as the audience member to go on that journey. It's also great to just celebrate Lucy, Michael Korie and Amy Powers' work and introduce it to a UK audience for the first time. The work is so stellar.
Do you have a favourite moment in the show?
Ramin: I'm still hearing a lot of it for the first time. When Celinde did her solo for the first time today, when I heard it with your voice, I just thought it was amazing.
Celinde: Well, I thought the same when I heard him sing! Ramin is one of my favourite male voices in, I want to say musical theatre, but that's not what he has. He has a little edge. He's one of those rare people who can go between classical and contemporary.
Ramin: Well, that's my lack of training coming out!
Celinde: No, it's amazing! It just goes up and up and up. Every time I hear him sing a song I go "Ugh, that's so good". There's one particular number called "Ashes and Tears". That's a good one. I think it's a really good song.
Ramin: ...and then there's that hymn that all the women do. All those a cappella voices together. I think Lucy has a folk element to everything she does.
Celinde: Yeah, how great is that?! She did that in The Secret Garden as well, it's gorgeous.
Ramin: We were actually talking about The Cardinals this morning. I think it's going to be hard to thing to keep going because everyone's so busy.
That's the problem when you get four people with individual careers together. We want to support each other in our individual things, but at the same time we're wondering "When do we get together?".
Celinde: That's why moments like the Proms and Ben's concert are great. Those little gems are really great.
Ramin: Yeah, I guess that's what keeps it special for us
Celinde: It's really nice for the two of us because we've never worked together properly. We've worked on the same material, like Phantom and Les Mis, but never in the same room together, so that's really nice.
Ramin: I think out first Cardinals rehearsal was also the first time we officially met, which was strange. Our paths had never actually crossed...
Celinde: ..and they should have.
Ramin: Yeah, all our people are friends with each other.
Celinde: It was always like Ramin was four steps ahead of me. Now it's finally happening and it's really nice, because I feel this score really suits us.
Ramin: Well, that's one way of saying I'm older!
Do you feel a connection to the piece?
Celinde: I do feel really connected to it because there's this Russian element in it. I'm Dutch, which is not Russian, but people seem to make a link there. There's also an aspect of celebrating stereotypical Russian things, which is similar to our things. Either way, I really feel connected to the score, which is really nice.
Ramin: I guess I've done it all now with Anastasia. I'm playing the Doctor here, I've played the someone on the Russian side. After this, that's it for me!
Would you liken the score to anything you've done before or is it something that's just out there on its own?
Celinde: I think it's a bit of a rare duck. As much as I love Phantom, it's just something that's part of me. I don't only do that sort of thing. When I think of musical theatre, there are now pop musicals, there are rock musicals, there are shows like Phantom, and then there's this. I think Phantom is just a part of us.
We're lucky that we both have a different side to our voices that we can use in other styles of music. We also like very similar music as well. We'll never be too classical.
Ramin: We're not classically trained anyway, so I certainly don't think of the piece in that way. Compared to a pop singer, I might sound more classical, but compared to a fully trained opera singer, no way.
Celinde: It's nice that people think of us like that, but that would involve at least another six years of training. Musical theatre also keeps on evolving. I find it so weird if people say "I don't like musical theatre", because I then ask "So you don't like any music?".
Ramin: Back in the day, the Rat Pack sang music theatre. So did Cole Porter. They made it cool, then rock and roll came in and changed that. Maybe Broadgrass, my band, can be the next thing to bring theatre back.
I think it's potentially lazy if people assume a piece adapted from classical literature has to sound classical. That's not the writer's fault or their intention. But then again, we haven't had a good classical-sounding musical for a while. Sure, we have Phantom and Les Mis, thank God, but I think there's a need for another classical piece. There's room for all of them.
Are there any other characters in the show that you'd want to play?
Ramin: I might give Pascha a go. That would be fun.
Celinde: Tanya is a beautiful role, but I feel like I've done that ingénue character a lot. Only recently, in The Light in the Piazza, I was playing an Italian woman who was cheated on. Lara's a more interesting role because she's aggressive, and in some ways, I'm aggressive. I like playing her because she's a bit of a badass woman. It's nice that the love triangle is not framed as women hating other women. There's more of an understanding there. I'd argue that Tanya is the strongest anchor in the show.
Ramin: Yes. It's about two progressive and strong women. Tanya is not a victim. She understands the situation and I like her. For me, it's the strength of the two women that makes the show.
Why should people come to see Doctor Zhivago?
Celinde: If the score alone doesn't get you there, it's going to be the orchestra and the story. There's a bit of everything in this show. There's a lot of passion. Plus, don't you want to hear Ramin sing? It's going to be really special! I think they won't be disappointed.
Ramin: Ha! Likewise! Yes, passion is the word I keep going back to. It's just beautiful.
Doctor Zhivago at Cadogan Hall on 1 September