Thursday, 23 June 2016

Big Interview: Ramin Karimloo

Ramin Karimloo is preparing to headline the London Palladium with his band on Saturday 16th July 2016.

Having played two sold out concerts at Islington’s Union Chapel and the Assembly Hall earlier this year, Ramin will perform his Broadgrass material including songs from Broadway, Bluegrass and beyond. 

Wicked legend Louise Dearman will join Ramin for a "duet or two." The band includes Sergio Ortega, Hadley Fraser and Alan Markley with backing vocals from Katie Birtill. 

After understudying Joe Gillis in the 2002 UK tour of Sunset Boulevard, the Iranian-Canadian performer went on to make his West End debut the same year as understudy Marius and Enjolras in Les Miserables at the Palace Theatre. He then starred as Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty's Theatre before returning to the West End production of Les Miserables as full-time Enjolras.

Ramin played Chris in the 2005 UK tour of Miss Saigon. He returned to the West End in 2007, this time taking on the title role in The Phantom of the Opera. He later originated the role of The Phantom in Andrew Lloyd Webber's new musical Love Never Dies at the Adelphi Theatre. He starred in the 25th Anniversary concerts for Les Miserables (O2 Arena) and The Phantom of the Opera (Royal Albert Hall), playing Enjolras and The Phantom respectively. 

Ramin first played Jean Valjean - arguably the most challenging male role in musical theatre - in the West End production of Les Miserables. He went on to reprise his performance in Toronto and then on Broadway where he received a Tony nomination for Best Leading Actor in a Musical. 

After departing the Broadway production of Les Miserables, Ramin starred in Prince Of Broadway directed by Harold Prince in Japan before playing Archibald Craven in The Secret Garden (Lincoln Centre) and Che in Evita (Vancouver Opera). He will return to the West End later this year in the UK premiere of Murder Ballad alongside Kerry Ellis at the Arts Theatre. Ramin and his band are also preparing to release a brand new EP. 

I recently spoke to Ramin about life after Les Mis, his upcoming concert at the London Palladium and why he’s feeling stronger than ever before… 

You’ve recently been super busy working in the UK, America and Japan – do you enjoy having lots of different projects all over the place going on at the same time? 
Well it’s funny, after such a long stint on Broadway as Valjean in Les Mis I had money in the bank finally – more than I needed – and for the first time in my life I realised now I could make choices. Firstly I felt like I needed to go away to be able to come back, and I felt like I wanted to reenergise and learn. The way people treated me and still do… I don’t believe the hype, I still feel like there’s so much I need to accomplish for myself – let alone to warrant some of the adjectives people label me with, apart from the negative ones… I believe them more than the positive ones [laughs]. 

After Les Mis I put it out there that I want to buy time and I want diversity. Here we are almost nine months since I made that eternal wish and I’ve got what I asked for; I’ve got tons of time now without any financial worries so the family is ok. After Les Mis I went and did Prince Of Broadway in which I played six different roles in one night – it couldn’t get more diverse. Then I went to LA to try pilot season, and within that time I did stuff with the band. I was back here doing some concerts, then I did Secret Garden at the Lincoln Centre and then played Che – a role I’ve always wanted to play – in Evita in Vancouver and had the best time… and now I’m here. It’s like, ‘wow’ – since Les Mis I’ve added three completely different credits to my acting resumé, the band has moved forward and we’ve recorded our second EP and I’ve had time with my family. It’s pretty much near perfection. Obviously I’m trying to lean towards TV and film now to keep that diversity going and keep these concerts going, but it’s nice that there’s no pressure. I’m literally having fun!

After doing something for so long it’s healthy to keep yourself on your toes!
I mean… there were things in Prince Of Broadway that I was really nervous about doing, so that was every reason to do it. Secret Garden worried me because I had no idea what to expect; I remember thinking ‘What on earth have I got myself into?’ during the plane ride from LA to New York [laughs]. Then I left New York thinking ‘That was the best role I could have asked to play’, even more than The Phantom and Valjean. I would love to revisit Archibald Craven on a longer scale.

Would you like to do Evita again? You have to do it over here…
I would. We had such a great production over there. Caroline Bowman (Eva) was a great leader, I’ve never worked with anyone quite like her. I sang some Evita recently at a concert at the Royal Albert Hall and was like, ‘I really enjoy that music’. I’m a big sucker for Antonio Banderas (who played Ché in the film) as well, so felt some sort of connection to him doing that part [laughs]. So yes I would love to do that again.

And Prince Of Broadway needs to come back too – they’ve been working on it for so long!
I think it’s more likely now than ever. Oddly enough after talking to my agent about good things recently, I got an email from Hal Prince [laughs]. I’ve heard from him before – he likes to connect directly with his actors. I like Hal because he’s old school, I try and not take it for granted – like my friendship with Colm Wilkinson. I consider Colm a dear friend now and have so much love for his family, but every now and again it hits me and I think, ‘That’s the guy who you waited for at stage door trying to get an autograph’. The other day I had a voicemail saying, “Ramin this is Colm, give me a call back”. I’ve had time to think recently about how grateful I am for how things have turned out.

Ramin at the Tony Awards

I spoke to an actor-friend recently who is currently in a long-running show and it’s nice to have financial security as an actor, he’s staying on for another year which is not a bad thing. I mean, what is success? That’s up to each individual. If someone prefers doing the smaller things which don’t pay as much that’s fine too. Each to their own I say. Right now I’m looking for those smaller things with shorter runs. I want to just do things for one, maybe two months so I can keep learning and growing as an actor. 

So next up you’re going to be headlining the London Palladium for one night only. So many legends have performed there – it’s a big deal!
That’s what made me laugh, I was just like ‘out of all the venues this is the classiest one’ [laughs] – it’s so historical and I’m playing it with my Broadgrass Band! You would think that if I were to be at the London Palladium it would be because I was in a musicals show or a production, but why not? At first I got a little nervous so thought I was going to fatten it out with bigger production values, but then I realised no – we should just do what we do best. I was emailing Sergio (Ortega) and Alan (Markley) and said I thought we should just keep doing what we’re already doing as a band. We’re going there to do a concert; not a show, not a cabaret, not a production. We’re doing what we always do… although we might have to put on a smarter jacket [laughs]. 

It’s about the music – we’ve never cared about the venue whether it holds ten people or six thousand people. We just want to be grateful for the space and we’re grateful to be able to perform in London. I don’t want to change the heart of the show because then it becomes something it’s not, and this whole thing happened organically… almost by accident and somehow we’re still going. My favourite comment is when people say, “It just seemed like we were watching a bunch of friends around the kitchen sink”. If we can share that in the Palladium then I think it’s going to be an extraordinary night. 

Ramin rehearses Prince Of Broadway
Of course I’m always looking for new songs to do – I no longer give myself the pressure of having to write new music. I was never a songwriter, I will just write a song if I feel like I want to write a song and I don’t care if it’s great or not. What I love about Broadgrass is that it comes together with my love of theatre because we can add more theatre songs and do it the way we want to do it.

The contrast in the material you do is astounding! How does it work when you try something new? Are there sometimes songs which don’t work?
I don’t think we’ve ever done anything that didn’t work. Before the Palladium concert we’re opening for Seal… when I say opening, I think we’ll be bottom of the bill. They’ll just be setting up the chairs when we’re on [laughs]. It’s ironic that we’re on the bill with him, because he once said “An audience loves to see an artist enjoying themselves”. So it’s almost like I don’t care what people are expecting, we just have to play what we feel like we want to play to the best of our ability so we’re 100% committed. Then I think the audience get what they want and get something they weren’t expecting.

For example, sometimes I don’t sing ‘Till I Hear You Sing’; if I don’t think I’ll be able to hit it or if I’m just not feeling it then I don’t want to give a bad version of it. It always works because we pick songs we love. We’re just putting on a show with music.

Broadgrass is so established now, but was it harder to get it off its feet at the beginning?
Absolutely, I was still figuring out who Ramin was. It was tough. This all started with a record deal with Sony; when I look back at some of the shows we did then and some of the recordings part of me wants to cringe but I have to accept that’s how this started, and without it this wouldn’t be happening now. We all had the best intentions back then and tried to do an earthier pop thing but it didn’t go down that road. When we started touring I realised we were going in a different direction. As the tours developed I tried new things. Back then it was really hard, but now it’s not because we have a sense of contentment and know what we want to do. 

This isn’t our only career, although sometimes I wish we could do a twenty-night tour because it gets better and better. After the second night in London earlier this year I wanted to do five more nights straight away. If you’re putting on a concert you have to stick to your guns – I’ve learnt from seeing mistakes with shows. I learnt a lot from Love Never Dies where people got seduced by public opinions too much. There will be thousands of different opinions and they’re all valid, but you can’t try and please everyone.

Ramin in Les Mis on Broadway

Do you get nervous?
I don’t know anymore! When I started Prince of Broadway I was, I guess, burnt out to be honest. I was ready to pack it in and do something else with my life…

Like what?!
I don’t know! But I just wanted to go away. But during Prince of Broadway I enjoyed singing again – because I wasn’t enjoying it before. I also enjoyed the dancing they tried to make me do [laughs] and I loved being in a company again as an ensemble. It was nice that we all led the show and not just one or two people which took away some pressure. I’m not a trained singer and don’t know much about vocal range and stuff, but none of it was taxing in the sense that Valjean is. Playing Valjean is a lifestyle… at least it is for me because it’s not naturally in my range.

I think playing Valjean is a lifestyle for most people!
There are a few who can just sing the c**p out of it, like Gerónimo Rauch – my god. If that was taxing for him then he hid it well, because I’ve never heard it sung like that apart from Colm. When I was in Japan it felt like I had a life again, it was a massive turning point. Then when the band came to join me for some concerts it was so much fun and not a chore and not scary.

Ramin in Les Mis on Broadway
You already had a huge profile and had played Valjean many times to huge acclaim, but when you went to Broadway you became a phenomenon over there! Could you feel it going to a new level?
I could. Do you know what? I never took the contract on Broadway thinking ‘I wonder if this will get me a Tony’, all I thought was ‘I really want to open this production’. I had Broadway offers before which I turned down because I didn’t want to go. It wouldn’t be fair for me to say what, but I will say that I was asked to take over from Ricky Martin as Che in Evita… but then the show didn’t last. There were some things which I was offered but didn’t want to be my Broadway debut, and the roles weren’t worth leaving my family for. 

But… when Les Mis came up, Cameron (Mackintosh) and the composers (Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg) are like family. They gave me everything I have so there was not an ounce of me that went ‘maybe’ – it was a 100% ‘yes, I’ve got to do it’. I changed my physique at that point – we put in so much physical and emotional work [laughs]. It was a great opportunity, but I never thought of the accolades or what it might do. I guess I’m looking for longevity so hoped it would open some doors. Now when I accept a role I think about who’s working on it, who the director is and who it might open up relationships with. I want to be around for a while!

So when it all started kicking off it just made me proud to be part of a show I love and a show that has been dear to me and so many other people for so long. When I got the Tony nomination I didn’t even know, Simon Bailey phoned me from England and said “Congratulations!” I said, “What for?” and he said “You’ve been nominated for a Tony, man!” They announce it really early and I was sleeping… I’m not going to get up at 8am! It just wasn’t on my radar because I didn’t think I was going to be nominated. So it was cool to be nominated and to have my kids there. I didn’t have a speech prepared, I would have just given the award to Colm. Had I won, I would have handed him the trophy. Even my son said I wasn’t going to win [laughs]. 

But being a Tony nominee is a big thing out there – it’s really embraced within the Broadway community.
What’s beautiful about Broadway is the sense of community. I got excited because everyone else was excited. On the day I got nominated, when I took my bow the whole cast applauded too… at first I didn’t even realise why. It was so sweet! Everyone roots for everyone over there, it’s a great community. But I also have fond memories of the Oliviers night over here for Love Never Dies. Performing at the Oliviers is one of my fondest memories. I was so proud to be nominated for that. It was such a hard show because we had so much more to deal with than we should have. 

Love Never Dies was a really interesting time because it was the beginning of blogs, so suddenly you had all these voices expressing so many different opinions and people didn’t know how to deal with it.
It was, and that’s where I feel for Andrew. I learnt as much offstage as I did onstage – I learnt about life; how to handle yourself and how not to handle yourself. It’s ok not to give a c**p and not to worry about what other people think. I keep telling my sons that what other people think of you is none of your business. As long as you’re not hurting someone or doing anything illegal then you just have to do your thing. I was able to enjoy the role and had a great time.

Ramin with Andrew Lloyd Webber & Sierra Boggess at a Love Never Dies press event

Personally I think 'Til I Hear You Sing' is the best song Andrew has ever written!
I love that song now. There was a period where I didn’t enjoy singing it anymore, but in Japan I found my love for it again. I loved that the show was ever-changing, although I felt for people who were paying money and didn’t know what version of the show they were going to get [laughs]. There were tough moments and at the time I would have thought ‘this ain’t fair’ or ‘why am I being put through this?’ but now when I look back I’m glad I went through all that because we all got through it and it was a great experience. 

Right… back to your music! I loved your last EP ‘The Road to Find Out: East’, but I can’t believe you’ve made us wait over two years for the next one!
The point of the EPs is that it was a collection of four… they should have been done by now [laughs]. 

I know right [laughs]?! I thought you were going to release all four throughout that year!
I got a little side-tracked [laughs]. We had two days in New York and had five songs we had to get done. One massive album of Broadgrass stuff might have been an overload for people, so I wanted to do four EPs with four or five songs on each one so people understand where it’s going. It also allows us time to improve what we’re doing as musicians. There was no time stamp… although I admit two years between EPs is a bit too much. 

I’m very proud of the first one, but this next one is a continuation. The last was a remote recording – everyone recorded in different places in different countries and sent it in. I wanted to put more heart of what we do onstage into this one. We recorded it as live as we could and then added some extra things afterwards. To my astonishment I think all the guitar on the EP is me playing… unless they’ve added stuff. That wasn’t supposed to happen, but I think it shows how we’ve evolved as a band. My ‘Ol' Man River’ track was all done in one take – voice and guitar at once. 

The next stage is for you to do a musical where you get to play guitar…
I remember they asked me to go in for Once, and I was like “Give me ten minutes and I will find a busker who is ten times more apt for the part than me”. You have to really work on it, that kind of strumming and guitar playing is different. With Broadgrass nobody knows if I go wrong because they think that’s how it’s supposed to sound [laughs]. 

Seeing as this is your first West End Frame interview I have to ask you the killer stagey question – what three musical theatre songs would you take with you to a desert island?
Just songs? ‘Ol' Man River’ (from Show Boat) because I just love that song. I love how it feels to sing it, I love the story behind it and I love how it has been recorded by such a diverse range of artists. I’ve got to go and see Show Boat – I heard it’s amazing. This is tough! There are so many good songs… Colm Wilkinson singing ‘Pity The Child’ (from Chess). I don’t even need a reason – you just need to listen to it. Oh my god… what have I listened to recently? If I was stuck on a desert island, it’s a beautiful song so I would take ‘The Impossible Dream’ (from Man of La Mancha). It would give me hope of getting off that island [laughs]. It would keep me going!

Tell me about the dedicated support you have behind you. There are fans who have followed your career for years, no matter what you’ve been working on! People literally travel around the world to see you perform.
It still blows my mind! In Vancouver for Evita the producers said they had never had a show sell so fast and they were like, “How come people are coming from all over the world?” I said, “I don’t know, but I’m so grateful for it”. It’s like a family in a way… it’s hard to find a balance because [jokingly] ultimately we’re not all family and we’re all strangers still [laughs]. 

I don’t know what to say other than I’m eternally grateful for everybody’s support. I’m not one of those people who says “Audiences just pay your paycheque” – I think that’s a crazy thing to say. The audiences helped to create Broadgrass, they gave it their spirit which infuses us. There are regular faces now and not just me but all the band know everyone. That brings an element of comfort, especially when you’re on the road. The support is something I still don’t feel used to – it still surprises me, especially when people come from Brazil or Japan or Australia for a gig. As long as they keep coming we’ll keep doing the shows if we can! I’m also grateful because producers who hire me for jobs are like “Ramin’s doing alright, he can sell a ticket or two” [laughs]. 

Promotional image for Ramin's new show, Murder Ballad

They make me want to keep being better than I was yesterday. As a musician this new EP is an indication of that because I’m actually recording with confidence and doing things in one take – a year ago there’s no way that would have happened. I feel like I’m a better singer now than I’ve ever been and as an actor I want to keep getting stronger to what people have seen before. If you can keep exceeding expectations hopefully people will keep coming back. I left Les Mis when I did because I didn’t want to be the tired thing in such a beautiful piece – it was time to get out. When money is in the bank, how much is enough? You have to leave on a high when you still love the show, which I do. When I walk by the Queen’s now my heart just goes full. Every now and again I pray for that phone call with someone asking “Can you do a Valjean show tonight? We’re stuck!” I would be like, “YEAH!” in one of those circumstances. Of course I would!

You’ve had the most extraordinary career within Les Mis…
My first job was understudy Marius and Enjolras when it was at the Palace.

If I told you on your first day ever of Les Mis rehearsals that you would end up playing Valjean on Broadway with a Tony nomination, what would you have said?
“No way!” If someone had told me what was going to happen over the next fifteen years I would not have believed it, but the fact that it has happened keeps reminding me this is what I dreamt of. That’s another reason I keep going – I see colleagues who have great careers who expect so much and rest on their laurels or think this is money for old rope. Those terms artistically are not great. I give my children advice… and I’ve got to do what I keep telling my kids!

Reviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Ramin Karimloo plays the London Palladium on Saturday 16th July 2016.
Please visit for further information and tickets.


  1. I think Ramin's authenticity shows in his performances and that's why we fans follow his productions where ever they are.He is one of best live performers I've seen because he really connects to the audience.

  2. Pam S - absolutely true! Nothing is easier to see through than a put-on image. He's the real thing.

  3. I love musical theatre but I was never that kind of person who went to a show because of a specific actor. But for a while now, I do it because of Ramin. I'd buy a ticket to see him playing anything, because I know he'll put his heart on it and it shows on his voice. By the way, he's voice is so unique, so versatile, there's no other voice like his nowadays. He's the best around. And he's such a gentleman.

  4. My passion has always been musical theatre. POTO, LES MIS, CATS, were always my go to entertainment, ironically, they are ALW, or Cam Mc shows. Finding Ramin and his voice were extra bonus for me and Iv'e been captivated by his journey and his way of bringing us along on the journey. when he sings it just fills my heart and lifts me to heights I've never experienced with other musicians, actors. he is an all around beautiful experience, and has a lovely family by his side , which just makes the experience of him more enjoyable. he is a real, down to earth person, and his music is all about that, getting to the roots of humanity.