RAMIN Karimloo, in Yeovil? Surely not?
Last year he sold out two iconic venues in Islington, Union Chapel and the Assembly Hall, and also the London Palladium, so those of us within an hour or so of the Octagon were very excited when this tour was announced towards the end of last year.
Karimloo is one of the world’s biggest and most sought after stars of musical theatre. Whenever his name is linked to a big show on Broadway, in Japan, Canada or London, tickets sell fast, whether he is playing the Phantom (including the 25th Anniversary show at the Royal Albert Hall) and creating the same role in the sequel, Love Never Dies, and playing Jean Valjean in the Broadway revival of Les Miserables, to new roles in new Broadway shows such as this year’s upcoming Anastasia.
Anyone seeing Ramin would understand why he is such a suitable romantic lead – his Iranian-Canadian pedigree gives him the look of a matinee idol of the 1940s – but he is so much more than that. He is one of those performers who seems to be singing every lyric of every song for the first time, with all the associated feeling and emotion. This works in slower ballads such as Old Man River, where he adds his own passion and pathos to a stripped-down guitar-accompanied rendition by jumping up an octave to high falsetto, as well as up-tempo classics such as Oh What a Beautiful Morning, which he is able to perform in a blue-grass style which is probably closer to the state of Oklahoma than it has ever been before. An evening with Ramin is the modern equivalent of an evening with Mario Lanza or Paul Robeson, such is his talent, and charisma.
Broadgrass, an amalgamation of Broadway and blue-grass, is the term that Ramin has coined to describe his music, because he is a huge fan of bluegrass music, and has developed this style mainly whilst working on Broadway. He is as dedicated to music as to theatre, and has perfected his guitar and banjo playing during hours in the dressing room between appearances, as well as writing many of his own Broadgrass songs, many of which sound as though they have been part of the blue-grass repertoire for years, such as Wings, and Broken, both of which were written whilst having his Phantom prosthetics applied.
Being so well-respected in one sphere has connected Ramin with some world-class musicians, and he picked some of the best to accompany him on this short tour of the UK. Percussionist Jessie Linden has appeared in New York singing and playing with Ramin in some of his late-night off-Broadway gigs. Bass player Nick Pini performed at all three London concerts last year, and is a master of his upright bass, whether plucking or bowing. UK-based fiddle player Georgina Leach, Ramin’s very own Alison Krauss as far as fiddle is concerned, has played with him since the Palladium last July, and adds great panache as the main feature instrumentalist. Actor-musician Matthew Harvey has just finished understudying Karimloo in off-West-End show Murder Ballad, after making his West End debut in Les Miserables.
He plays a very slick guitar and can even accompany on the piano, to great effect tonight in Till I Hear You Sing, Karimloo’s big number from Love Never Dies. This is a slick band, with three good singing voices too, and there are great moments of ensemble singing, especially the duets with Harvey – I don’t think I will ever hear Hushabye Mountain sung with such sweetness and sensitivity. While the Broadgrass numbers are slick, classy and efficient, it is a real treat when something from a musical transcends everything, taking us out of this small theatre and straight into the world of Broadway and the West End, whether from Chess, Evita or Showboat.
Usually when writing a review I am encouraging people to go along to the same show later the same week (or sometimes not), but this was a one-off as far as Yeovil is concerned, and anyone who missed it will never know just what a magical, special evening they missed. There is, however, a chance to catch this tour at Eastleigh and Horsham in two weeks, and they are also visiting Nottingham, Leeds, Bury St Edmunds and a few other Northern outposts, so if you have any friends who like musical theatre and want to see one of the world’s greatest proponents of the art up close and relatively personal, look up the tour. Local folk, keep your eye on the Octagon’s website for any future stars of such calibre that may decide to venture in this direction, and well done for securing this one.