Man Crush Monday: Ramin Karimloo
Ramin Karimloo is a musical theater rockstar. Though he made his Broadway debut in 2014 as Jean Valjean in the popular Les Misérables reboot, Karimloo has long been known to theater fans for his roles across the pond. He first appeared in West End and concert productions of Les Misérables and The Phantom of the Opera. Indeed, his performance as the Phantom was kind of a big deal: he acquired a devoted fan base and achieved the distinction of being the first Iranian to take up the mask in a West End or Broadway production. (And he’s the best Phantom ever— eat your heart out, Gerard Butler.)
Part of Karimloo’s strength is the ease with which he flips between theatrical roles and music. Last fall, he starred in a successful production of The Prince of Broadway in Japan. On July 8, 2016, he dropped his newest EP The Road to Find Out: South. Additionally, he mounted three concerts on both sides of the Atlantic within the last two weeks: at the London Palladium on July 16, 2016, and two shows at New York City’s B.B. King Blues Club on July 23 and July 24. Next up, he’ll be joining the star-studded cast of White Rabbit Red Rabbit off-Broadway, followed by his London return in Murder Ballad.
We can’t help but hardcore crush on him. Why? Because there are just so many things to love about Ramin Karimloo:
That voice. Obviously, everything about this stud is sexy. But his voice is a special delight– it effortlessly flips between concert-hall polish and down-home roughness, all while being emotionally expressive. Listen with caution, though: his smooth and glorious voice packs a punch and can be a full-scale blast of power and emotion that could easily knock you off your feet. The crazy part? He’s never formally trained as a singer and can’t read music. Whaaaaaat??? If that doesn’t have “genius” written all over it, I don’t know what does.
You can’t box him in. Don’t think of him as just another musical theater performer. The tattoo-clad, Iranian-born, Canadian-raised, British-employed, weight-lifting, banjo-strumming, motorcycle-riding, board-treading, showtune-singing Ramin Karimloo defies expectation and definition– he has a gypsy soul and is a global actor in a global world. That renegade, true-to-himself spirit comes across in his musical tastes, as well: this star of Broadway and the West End is drawn to the alt-bluegrass and folk style of bands like The Avett Brothers (we feel you, Ramin). (In fact, he got to perform on stage with the Avett Brothers in 2014! He’s also collaborated with Avett Brothers cellist Joe Kwon.) As such, Karimloo has successfully blended his two loves– Broadway and bluegrass– in his “Broadgrass” Band, in which he performs Broadway standards in a bluegrass/folk style. And you know what? It’s bloody brilliant. The genius of this project comes across most clearly in his beautiful reimagining of Show Boat‘s “Old Man River.” In his heart, Karimloo is a storyteller, and these seemingly different musical genres share a fundamental quality: they’re about stories. He has also covered folk and country standards, like Dolly Parton’s “Wildflowers,” Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel,” and the traditional hymn “Down to the River to Pray.” His Broadway.com vlog (“Vlogger 24601”) during his Les Mis run was also a treat to watch– not only because Karimloo is adorable and hilarious, but also because he frequently folk-jammed with his co-stars. (See this episode for a fantastic Mumford & Sons cover with Keala Settle. I dare you not to get chills when you watch this one with Terance Reddick and Arbender Robinson.) Karimloo has also written his own songs, like the lovely “Wings (She Is Loved).” In other words, he isn’t willing to be defined by any tired labels people might want to throw at him– he’s a true musician who delights in surprising his audiences.
Project 22. All month, Karimloo has been participating in the #22Challenge. The challenge, like the 2015 film Project 22, highlights the fact that 22 veterans commit suicide every day. By shedding light on this problem, the challenge seeks to reduce this heartbreaking statistic by opening discussions about how better to serve, support, and integrate veterans in civilian life. Every day, Karimloo has posted a short video of himself doing 22 push-ups in support of veterans and sharing facts with his audience to raise awareness. As Karimloo stated on Instagram, “I may not agree with my or your government, but I respect those who give their lives for others. Wishing all those serving a peaceful time.”
“Rierra” is still pretty adorable. Karimloo has frequently collaborated with the Christine Daaé to his Phantom, Sierra Boggess: they starred alongside each other in the 2011 25th anniversary concert of Phantom at Royal Albert Hall and were hand-picked by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber to star in the Phantom sequel Love Never Dies. Their sweet friendship and crazy good chemistry onstage has sparked the “Rierra” (Ramin + Sierra) phenomenon online. Sorry, ‘shippers: Ramin and Sierra are just friends, and they’ll stay that way. (For the record, Karimloo is happily married and has a beautiful family.) But, their collaboration has spawned beautiful, beautiful music, like an acoustic version of the Love Never Dies standout “Once Upon Another Time” and the Civil Wars‘ “Poison and Wine.”
Though Ramin Karimloo can be defined by his lack of definition, there is one label he can’t escape: rockstar. So, we’re just all a bunch of groupies, thrilled at prospect of being wowed yet again by a truly gifted performer who isn’t afraid to carve his own path.
Download Ramin Karimloo’s new EP The Road to Find Out: South from an online retailer near you!
Photo Credit: Phill Cowndley