Ramin Karimloo was first bitten by the theatre bug upon seeing Colm Wilkinson in the original production of The Phantom of the Opera in Toronto in the late 80s. Since then he has gone on to play the title role in both The Phantom and Love Never Dies in London's West End, and now will come home to Toronto for the first time in the Mirvish Production of LES MISERABLES which was just announced for their 2013-2014 season. BWW spoke with Ramin about how he feels about coming home, the pressures of the role of Jean Valjean, Sheytoons, the Academy Awards, his musical influences and more:
This will be your first time performing in a theatrical production in Toronto - are you excited to be returning 'home'?
I'm very excited to be a part of re-launching Les Miserables in Toronto. Toronto was a huge inspiration to me. I was introduced to theatre there and the roles I fell in love with and went on to play. 'Home' is a funny word for me these days because I'm traveling so much that I'm still figuring out what 'home' means. Some say it's where your heart is but for me, it's where my kids are. Sadly they won' be touring with me full-time on this trip but I will make sure they can get over to Toronto as much as possible. I want to show them my old stomping ground where it all began in Peterborough. Lace up the skates and get them out on the canal like their Dad did back in the day!
We've heard about how your love of the theatre was sparked after seeing the original Toronto production of The Phantom of the Opera - how does it feel to return to where it all started and take to the stage in this city?
I think I'm coming home with the perfect role. I had a blast in my stint as Jean Valjean in London's West End for four months. I definitely left wanting to explore the role more. I'm grateful to have been so busy since I left Les Miserables that I feel I've gained even more experience. Also, since this is the 'new' 25th Anniversary Production I'm looking forward to taking the show step by step with the new cast and seeing what we can create. The process/rehearsals are always so much fun when you come in with an empty page.
You've spent a lot of time working on Les Miserables in the West End - why do you think the show has endured and how do you see a Toronto audience responding to the new production?
I see the Toronto audience responding like most of the world has, with open arms and hearts and tear stained faces. The story continually picks you up and puts you down at will, and the music sings through tears. I love how it leaves you devastated but still can instill such a sense of hope. It takes you on an emotional rollercoaster yet leaves you invigorated after the two and a half hour journey. There are so many well written characters for everyone in the audience to relate to that I think all those who see it can connect with the story and empathize with the material.
You're one of the youngest actors to tackle the role of Jean Valjean - how did you prepare for the journey?
I prepared the same way I would any other role. I researched and used the rehearsals to play and understand the character. With Les Miserables you can and should start with Victor Hugo's novel. It's there for the taking. Thankfully it wasn't that long ago that I first read it and since I knew there was talk of me reprising the role I've saved that work and I can take what I need when I need it. Many parts of the novel jumped out at me as a conduit between myself and Jean Valjean and I've covered those parts with highlighter. I'll re-read them and let my imagination loose to see what happens.
As for the age, I try not to let that be too much of a concern. If I just focus on Valjean's story and where he is at in the moment and find his truth, then everything else tends to fall into place. If I try to 'play' old it can become a caricature. What's important is the journey of this man's heart, conscious, conviction, faith and all the struggles within that journey. Of course make-up helps as well since my character spans over forty years. With that said, technically at some point everyone is 'too young'.
The role is especially vocally demanding, and since the film we've heard a lot of talk about how Bring Him Home is one of the toughest songs in the musical theatre canon. How do you protect and preserve your voice when performing it night after night? Have you ever found it to be a particular struggle?