Tony Nominee Ramin Karimloo at Mark Cortale’s Broadway@The Herbst

By Jeff Kaluzny

Mark Cortale’s “Broadway @ The Herbst” series is bringing his cadre of Broadway legends back to San Francisco for another season.  Olivier and Tony Award nominee Ramin Karimloo will be headlining the kick off this Thursday evening, 11/8. Ramin, who was the original Phantom in Love Never Dies, the continuation of the story told by the longest running musical of all time, Phantom of The Opera.  His Broadway debut as Jean Valjean in the revival of Les Miserables earned him a 2014 Tony nod for Best Actor in a Musical.

The “Broadway @” series, which blends personal behind the scenes stories with a variety of songs from the artists repertoire as well as songs that the entertainers are inspired by, is a benefit for San Francisco AIDS Foundation, Project Open Hand & San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.  The event has turned into a genuine Who’s Who of Broadway and West End musical theater with residences in over a dozen of the biggest theatre communities around the world.

Because of the organic nature of each of the shows in this series, which are hosted by “Mayor of Broadway”, Seth Rudestky, you forget that Seth and Mark bring these shows all over the globe. It feels like it’s a one-off piece. You are guaranteed to be given an evening very much curated to San Francisco and the audience that calls it home. The format is akin to ‘Inside The Actors Studio’.  Mr. Rudetsky comes up with insightful questions and knows more about the headliner than they do or are expecting to recall and it always seems to be able to keep the star on their toes.

Outside of the song selection, how much of the show is rehearsed?  Are you aware of what you’ll be talking about in advance?  No, and I don’t want to know.  We’ve done 3 or 4 of these all over and I feel like the songs are just a byproduct. We have such a back catalog of songs, way too much for the time allotted.  I tell him that he can decide which songs we do and when and I let the evening go organically.  When we did 3 shows in London all three shows were different.  I say, ‘Let’s just see how the evening goes’.

The audiences energy will dictate where we go with the show and it becomes organic for that reason. It’s not like we’re hurting for material.  And still, after all three shows I look back and think, ‘Oh, we didn’t talk about this, we didn’t talk about that, we didn’t talk about this other.  That gets me excited for the next show.  I like to work like that.

“The best memories that I have in my life are not caught on my cell phone, they were caught in my head and heart.  That memory will always beat any cellphone recording.”

Even when I tour with my band, we have more material than we need.  Every show has a different set list.  When I do perform as a soloist outside of character parts I don’t want it to be set.  I don’t want it to be too structured.  I want it to be organic for that audience for that night.  That’s why I’m so against recordings and phones.  I want to interact with people and feel like we’re sitting in a living room.  I want them to be part of the show and the only way to do that is to be fully engaged.

What are your thoughts on audiences recording your performances with their phones?  It’s got to be a tricky situation because it’s never been something that you have had to contend with before and it’s also something that isn’t easy to control from the stage. The best memories that I have in my life are not caught on my cell phone, they were caught in my head and heart.  That memory will always beat any cellphone recording.

Unless it’s set up like we had for the 25thAnniversary recordings that we did (Ramin was part of both the Phantom and the Les Miserables 25thAnniversary concerts) where we had 17 cameras and hundreds of thousands of dollars invested into the production for the audiences benefit, I don’t want to see cellphones.  That’s not what I’m performing for.  I want to talk to you and your heart.  Trust me, you’ll get more out of it.

I also find it very disrespectful to the patrons around you let alone the performers on stage.  If I had spent all that money on a ticket, I’be be annoyed.  That’s why I don’t go to musicals to often, I go to plays.  No one seems to want to record a play <laughing>.  I don’t go to cinemas anymore.  Netflix has been great for me.

The common courtesy is sadly going the other way.  When I go, when I spend that money, I want to escape for three hours.  I want to be picked up and dropped off.  I don’t want to be reminded about reality.

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There’s nothing worse than that glare just out of the corner of your eye from that one person.   I like to go to a show and I like a good cry.  If I see your cellphone now I’m out of it and it’s like you just robbed me of that.  It also looks so foolish.  Let’s say the person on stage is saying a beautiful speech and someone has their phone up.  You’re going to remember the experience if you’re engaged, trust me.

When I first saw Colm Wilkinson I know every detail of that.  This is before cellphones and social media.  I don’t need to look it up.  It’s there on recall whenever I need it because I was present.

As I understand Colm Wilkinson is your biggest inspiration, is that correct?  Yeah.  If I have to give it to anyone it’s gonna be him.  He led me to all of my other inspirations.

The two of you remarkably similar CV’s.  You’ve taken on more than a few of the roles he’s originated, if I’m not mistaken.  Listen, it’s the law of attraction.  They say “Be careful what you wish for”, but why be careful?  That’s exactly why you wish for it.  I wanted to be him.  I wanted his career.  I read all of the Playbills for every role he did and I told myself that those were the roles I wanted to do.

I look back and I think, wow I checked off most of those.

Every year I start it off with a word for the year.  The last few years I look back and it’s like wow.  How can I complain?  That’s what I asked for, so deal with it.

Someone tweeted me once, ‘You’re overrated!”  I said, “At least I’m rated”.

You stepped into the role of The Phantom in Phantom Of The Opera. After playing Vicomte de Chagny and Raoul you took on a character that is effective the Pope of musical theatre. Given the huge lineage of actors who embodied the Phantom and what the character represents in the theater world how do you step into that, make it your own, create your own legacy, and not be scared out of your mind?  There’s a reason why when someone gets inspired by something they just go do it.  Ignorance is bliss.  I don’t care what other people think.  I wanted to do it not for accolades or adulation.  That was a byproduct of my passion.

When I was a kid thinking I wanted to be The Phantom, I didn’t think what are people going to say about me. Will they like it?  Will it lead me to any awards?

Did you worry at all about carrying on the torch?  No!  The way I thought was that there are a lot of people that love it so I’m already riding on a wave of support.  Then, I love the love/hate situation.  Indifference means nothing.  If they’re talking, they’re talking.

Someone tweeted me once, ‘You’re overrated!”  I said, “At least I’m rated”.  I’d rather make decisions where if people don’t like it it still causes people to talk.

The Phantom is such a malleable character.  Phantom and Jean Valjean, those are our Othello’s and Hamlet’s because they are such great parts.  There’s a reason they still last and tell a story.  I took my inspiration from where I needed it and I ran with it.  I was young when I played them so my lack of experience actually led to the performance we got.  If I ever did it now, who knows how it would be.  That was my truth in that moment.


It’s not too late. Don’t miss Tony Award nominee Ramin Karimloo with Seth Rudetsky in Mark Cortale’s acclaimed series Broadway @ The Herbst concert series on Thursday, November 8thth at 8:00 PM.  Tickets are available at www.cityboxoffice.com/broadway or via phone at 415.392.4400.

For over 30 years Project Open Hand is a nonprofit organization that provides 2,500 nutritious meals and 200 bags of healthy groceries each day to help sustain their clients as they battle serious illnesses, isolation, or the health challenges of aging.

 The San Francisco AIDS Foundation has been working to end the HIV epidemic since 1982.  Their refusal to accept HIV as inevitable has led to their mission to radically reduce new infections through education, advocacy and direct services for prevention and care in the most vulnerable communities.

 Founded in 1978 as the first ever openly gay chorus, San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus is one of the largest male choruses in the world.  Their 300 members carry the mission of creating extraordinary musical experiences that inspire community, activism, and compassion.

 Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS is one of the nation’s leading industry-based HIV/AIDS fundraising and grant-making organizations. They fund the social service work of The Actors Fund and award grants to AIDS service organizations nationwide.

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