Theatre openings and my Top Ten Choices of the Week (w/c Jan 25)

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ramin-albumRamin Karimloo has become an internationally recognised star of musicals in the last few years, search for sale since first originating the role of the Phantom in the ill-fated premiere London production of LOVE NEVER DIES five years ago. Since then, decease generic he has gone on to release a studio album (left), star as Jean Valjean in LES MISERALBES both in the West End and more recently on Broadway, and starred in the Tokyo premiere of the Hal Prince revue PRINCE OF BROADWAY. Now, as he returns to London for his first UK concerts in over 2 years, I revisit the 2010 interview I did with him before LOVE NEVER DIES opened in London.

* NOTE: An Evening with Ramim Karimloo takes place at Islington’s Union Chapel on January 19 and Islington’s Assembly Hall on January 20.

TEN YEARS ON, FOR THE PHANTOM AS WELL AS THE ACTOR PLAYING HIM
Mark Shenton meets Ramin Karimloo, facing the biggest challenge of his life as he prepares to play The Phantom of the Opera again in the show’s sequel Love Never Dies that opens officially in the West End on Tuesday (March 10, 2010).

There is no show in theatrical history quite like The Phantom of the Opera: since first opening in London nearly a quarter of a century ago (and where it is still going strong at Her Majesty’s Theatre and is now the longest running show in Broadway history as well), it has grossed more than any other film or stage play in history, including Titanic, ET and Star Wars.

So its sequel, Love Never Dies, that has its official opening at the West End’s Adelphi Theatre on Tuesday, has a tough, even impossible, act to follow. Last week its director Jack O’Brien told me, “Nobody is going to thank us for doing this. And honest to God, we are not going to know what anybody thinks for a long time. There is too much noise. One has to just say, this is the course I am sailing, these are the people who are going with me, I really believe in this, and I am having a wonderful time.”

ramin-karimloo-training And key amongst the people who are on that ship is Ramin Karimloo, the 31-year-old Iranian-born, Canadian-raised actor who last November completed a two-year stint of playing the Phantom in the West End original, and is creating the role afresh now. Meeting the dashing, modest actor in his backstage dressing room, he says of the daunting challenge of following the earlier show’s footsteps now, “It’s surreal. I don’t know what I’m supposed to feel. But there’s an odd sense of calm about it. I’m not thinking, ‘I’m the best'; I’m just the guy who is doing it now. And I will do the best I can do with it, knowing that one day I am going to give it up, and somebody else is going to take over and do their best.”

Phantom has, in fact, been the a big part of his life for a long time, and not just over the last two years as he has stepped into the spotlight in London and then, over the course of three workshops and the recording of the album that is being released on Wednesday, to the starring role he finds himself in its brand-new incarnation. “For every major peak and plateau of my life, Phantom has been involved somehow. The first show I ever saw was Phantom, and it’s what made me want to be an actor. As a kid, I waited at the stage door in Toronto, and met Colm Wilkinson [who played the role in the show’s Canadian premiere]. I asked him, ‘how do I do what you do?’ And he said he said he started out in rock bands, so that’s why I joined one, too, because I thought that’s what you’ve got to do.” ??For a school project a few years later, the theme was vocations, and he decided to do his on aspiring to play the Phantom. He met Peter Karrie, the British actor by then playing it, “and they made a big press thing of it; there was an article linking the Phantom with his shadow, me! It said Ramin would like to be the Phantom one day, and Peter saying that it would take up to 15 years to weed out the weak from the strong. But 11 years later, I got it!”

ramin-karimloo-backBy then he was 27, and had long settled in England. He came over first to sing aboard a cruise ship – “I had nothing to lose, and I had no one to depend on me” — and after docking for the last time, he says, “I knew one person who lived in Oxford – so I went there and ended up working in a factory making the insides of hand-driers! But I knew I had to get to London. Someone said to go to the Pineapple Dance Studios, so I did. There was this board full of singing and acting teachers, and I thought I should learn some theatre songs. So I closed my eyes and pointed and took a number – and I went to this guy’s house, who heard me sing and introduced me to an agent, Michael Garrett, who took me on. Four months later, I was working at the Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park, understudying Gary Wilmot as the Pirate King in The Pirates of Penzance. I learnt so much – I was never in my dressing room, I’d always be in the wings. It wasn’t because I was dying to go on, but because of what I could learn.”

He was 21 at the time. Now, ten years on, he has learnt a lot himself, “and it’s perfect for this Phantom, which is also set ten years after the first one ends. But it parallels a lot that I’ve experienced myself.” A lot has changed for both of them. The new show finds the Phantom relocated from Paris to Coney Island – “the Vegas of its day,” says Ramin – “where he could fit right in and be part of the population. People went there to see freaks, and society didn’t hound him there but loved him. He had an outlet for his musical creativity. But the problem is that it doesn’t fulfil his soul.”

That yearning can only be met in a reunion with his former great love, Christine, whom he gets to come over from Paris with Raoul, now her husband. (Ramin has also previously played Raoul onstage and had a cameo role in the film version as Christine’s father — “blink and you’ll miss me!”, he quips – and so has played each of Christine’s major loves.)

And Ramin, too, recently had a watershed realisation: during the workshops and recording of the show, “I thought I knew the character well, because I was still doing Phantom I at night, and thought he was the same character. But he isn’t. I had two months off before I started this, and a lot happened to me in my personal life – I had to deal with the things you push away when you’re in eight shows a week. And it hit me. It had been ten long years for him, as well as for me. And the director said something: we live our lives in decades – our teens, twenties, thirties, forties – and we change. I’ve learnt so much. The guy that I was at 21 – we share the same name, but we’re different people. I walk differently, I talk differently. And I’ve had a blessed life, unlike the Phantom. Life gives you circumstances to deal with, and you grow and change.”

One of those realisations is that “there’s no point carrying the weight of things you have no control over”. Like the reception to the show, for instance? “Yes. I can only do the best I can.” But it calls on all his resources, too: “Singing Cole Porter is beautiful, but you’re not blasting out 11 top C’s in a row, either. I can’t read music, but I said, ‘Those are big notes, right?’ And I’m no Pavarotti, I’m telling you – I’m no King of Top C’s!”

But he concludes, “It’s more about the heart. I don’t go out thinking I have to sing this perfectly. That would be boring. In a drama course in high school, the teacher asked how we were feeling today. If you said 65%, he said, can you give me 100% of that 65%? And that’s what I do now – I’ll always give 100% of whatever I’ve got on that day, then I’m not selling anyone short.”
ramin-albumRamin Karimloo has become an internationally recognised star of musicals in the last few years, sale since first originating the role of the Phantom in the ill-fated premiere London production of LOVE NEVER DIES five years ago. Since then, viagra buy he has gone on to release a studio album (left), star as Jean Valjean in LES MISERALBES both in the West End and more recently on Broadway, and starred in the Tokyo premiere of the Hal Prince revue PRINCE OF BROADWAY. Now, as he returns to London for his first UK concerts in over 2 years, I revisit the 2010 interview I did with him before LOVE NEVER DIES opened in London.

* NOTE: An Evening with Ramim Karimloo takes place at Islington’s Union Chapel on January 19 and Islington’s Assembly Hall on January 20.

TEN YEARS ON, FOR THE PHANTOM AS WELL AS THE ACTOR PLAYING HIM
Mark Shenton meets Ramin Karimloo, facing the biggest challenge of his life as he prepares to play The Phantom of the Opera again in the show’s sequel Love Never Dies that opens officially in the West End on Tuesday (March 10, 2010).

There is no show in theatrical history quite like The Phantom of the Opera: since first opening in London nearly a quarter of a century ago (and where it is still going strong at Her Majesty’s Theatre and is now the longest running show in Broadway history as well), it has grossed more than any other film or stage play in history, including Titanic, ET and Star Wars.

So its sequel, Love Never Dies, that has its official opening at the West End’s Adelphi Theatre on Tuesday, has a tough, even impossible, act to follow. Last week its director Jack O’Brien told me, “Nobody is going to thank us for doing this. And honest to God, we are not going to know what anybody thinks for a long time. There is too much noise. One has to just say, this is the course I am sailing, these are the people who are going with me, I really believe in this, and I am having a wonderful time.”

ramin-karimloo-training And key amongst the people who are on that ship is Ramin Karimloo, the 31-year-old Iranian-born, Canadian-raised actor who last November completed a two-year stint of playing the Phantom in the West End original, and is creating the role afresh now. Meeting the dashing, modest actor in his backstage dressing room, he says of the daunting challenge of following the earlier show’s footsteps now, “It’s surreal. I don’t know what I’m supposed to feel. But there’s an odd sense of calm about it. I’m not thinking, ‘I’m the best'; I’m just the guy who is doing it now. And I will do the best I can do with it, knowing that one day I am going to give it up, and somebody else is going to take over and do their best.”

Phantom has, in fact, been the a big part of his life for a long time, and not just over the last two years as he has stepped into the spotlight in London and then, over the course of three workshops and the recording of the album that is being released on Wednesday, to the starring role he finds himself in its brand-new incarnation. “For every major peak and plateau of my life, Phantom has been involved somehow. The first show I ever saw was Phantom, and it’s what made me want to be an actor. As a kid, I waited at the stage door in Toronto, and met Colm Wilkinson [who played the role in the show’s Canadian premiere]. I asked him, ‘how do I do what you do?’ And he said he said he started out in rock bands, so that’s why I joined one, too, because I thought that’s what you’ve got to do.” ??For a school project a few years later, the theme was vocations, and he decided to do his on aspiring to play the Phantom. He met Peter Karrie, the British actor by then playing it, “and they made a big press thing of it; there was an article linking the Phantom with his shadow, me! It said Ramin would like to be the Phantom one day, and Peter saying that it would take up to 15 years to weed out the weak from the strong. But 11 years later, I got it!”

ramin-karimloo-backBy then he was 27, and had long settled in England. He came over first to sing aboard a cruise ship – “I had nothing to lose, and I had no one to depend on me” — and after docking for the last time, he says, “I knew one person who lived in Oxford – so I went there and ended up working in a factory making the insides of hand-driers! But I knew I had to get to London. Someone said to go to the Pineapple Dance Studios, so I did. There was this board full of singing and acting teachers, and I thought I should learn some theatre songs. So I closed my eyes and pointed and took a number – and I went to this guy’s house, who heard me sing and introduced me to an agent, Michael Garrett, who took me on. Four months later, I was working at the Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park, understudying Gary Wilmot as the Pirate King in The Pirates of Penzance. I learnt so much – I was never in my dressing room, I’d always be in the wings. It wasn’t because I was dying to go on, but because of what I could learn.”

He was 21 at the time. Now, ten years on, he has learnt a lot himself, “and it’s perfect for this Phantom, which is also set ten years after the first one ends. But it parallels a lot that I’ve experienced myself.” A lot has changed for both of them. The new show finds the Phantom relocated from Paris to Coney Island – “the Vegas of its day,” says Ramin – “where he could fit right in and be part of the population. People went there to see freaks, and society didn’t hound him there but loved him. He had an outlet for his musical creativity. But the problem is that it doesn’t fulfil his soul.”

That yearning can only be met in a reunion with his former great love, Christine, whom he gets to come over from Paris with Raoul, now her husband. (Ramin has also previously played Raoul onstage and had a cameo role in the film version as Christine’s father — “blink and you’ll miss me!”, he quips – and so has played each of Christine’s major loves.)

And Ramin, too, recently had a watershed realisation: during the workshops and recording of the show, “I thought I knew the character well, because I was still doing Phantom I at night, and thought he was the same character. But he isn’t. I had two months off before I started this, and a lot happened to me in my personal life – I had to deal with the things you push away when you’re in eight shows a week. And it hit me. It had been ten long years for him, as well as for me. And the director said something: we live our lives in decades – our teens, twenties, thirties, forties – and we change. I’ve learnt so much. The guy that I was at 21 – we share the same name, but we’re different people. I walk differently, I talk differently. And I’ve had a blessed life, unlike the Phantom. Life gives you circumstances to deal with, and you grow and change.”

One of those realisations is that “there’s no point carrying the weight of things you have no control over”. Like the reception to the show, for instance? “Yes. I can only do the best I can.” But it calls on all his resources, too: “Singing Cole Porter is beautiful, but you’re not blasting out 11 top C’s in a row, either. I can’t read music, but I said, ‘Those are big notes, right?’ And I’m no Pavarotti, I’m telling you – I’m no King of Top C’s!”

But he concludes, “It’s more about the heart. I don’t go out thinking I have to sing this perfectly. That would be boring. In a drama course in high school, the teacher asked how we were feeling today. If you said 65%, he said, can you give me 100% of that 65%? And that’s what I do now – I’ll always give 100% of whatever I’ve got on that day, then I’m not selling anyone short.”
I’ve not produced a top ten of the week since before Christmas (apart from a Top 10 look ahead for 2016 of the shows I’m most looking foward to this year).

Meanwhile, more about quite a lot has changed since I was last here, there not least that my favourite new musical of last year Bend it Like Beckham received its closing notice while I was on holiday in Barbados the week before last. So that has to top my first list of the New Year! Also this week: the Donmar’s sell-out production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses gets a NT Live broadcast, illness and its your last chance to see Peter Pan Goes Wrong.

MAIN THEATRE OPENINGS OF THE WEEK

In London:

  • The Oliviers in Concert: The Laurence Olivier Awards turn 40 this year — and in advance of this year’s ceremony on April 3 at the Royal Opera House, a concert is being held at the Royal Festival Hall tonight (January 18) to celebrate the anniversary that is being directed by multiple Olivier winner Maria Friedman. The anniversary year will also see a major exhibition at the V&A that will also subsequently transfer to New York’s Lincoln Center.
  • the-motherThe Mother: Florian Zeller, whose hit play The Father is about to return to the West End next month for another run at the Duke of York’s ahead of a national tour (while a separate production of the play is being staged on Broadway in March), sees the transfer of a companion play The Mother at the Tricycle on Tuesday January 26 with Gina McKee in the title role (picture right). It has also just been announced that yet another play by him, The Truth, will be premiered at the Menier Chocolate Factory in March.  Website: http://www.tricycle.co.uk/current-programme-pages/theatre/theatre-programme-main/the-mother/
  • Escaped Alone: after the National’s premiere of Caryl Churchill’s Here We Go in November, the Royal Court now has the world premiere of another Churchill play, opening January 28. James Macdonald directs a cast that comprises Linda Bassett and Deborah Findlay (two of my favourite actors), Kika Markham and June Watson. Website: http://www.royalcourttheatre.com/whats-on/escapedalone

MY TOP TEN SHOWS OF THIS WEEK
beckham-girls1) Bend it Like Beckham. My favourite new musical of last year, as I wrote here for The Stage, was the stage version of the 2002 film Bend It Like Beckham, featuring the glorious and soaring music of Howard Goodall. It has sadly been announced that it will close on March 5 at the end of the original cast’s contracts, so catch it now — or catch it again, as I intend to, as much as possible in the next few weeks! See my review for The Stage here. Website: http://benditlikebeckhamthemusical.co.uk/

2) Close to You. Joyful concert revue of Burt Bacharach classics, mashed up and re-made for now, now extended at the Criterion to Feb. 14. See my review for The Stage here.  Website: http://closetoyoulondon.com/

in-the-heights3) In the Heights. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s 2008 Tony winning Broadway musical returns to London in the exhilarating production first seen at Southwark Playhouse last year, and now at the new Olivier-eligible King’s Cross Theatre, where it is currently booking to April 10. See my review for The Stage here. Website: http://intheheightslondon.com/

4) Les Liaisons Dangereuses. This grimly gripping portrait of human manipulation and sexual game playing casts a dark spell, superbly played by Janet McTeer and Dominic West, at the Donmar Warehouse. My review for London Theatre Guide is here. Webiste: http://www.donmarwarehouse.com/whats-on/donmar-warehouse/on-now/2015/les-liaisons-dangereuses. It will also be broadcast live to cinemas in the UK and elsewhere in partnership with NT Live this week on Jan. 28. Check out details here on venues it will be screens in: http://ntlive.nationaltheatre.org.uk/productions/ntlout14-les-liaisons-dangereuses
5) Peter Pan Goes Wrong. Last week to see Mischief Theatre’s version of JM Barrie’s story that defiantly insists it is not a pantomime, closing at the Apollo on December 31. But it is a farce — and a riotous one — in which, instead of Peter Pan’s traditional declaration that to die would be an awfully big adventure, it is more of an awfully big misadventure. It’s a cliche to say you were crying with laughter, but I really was. See my review for The Stage here. Website: http://www.theplaythatgoeswrong.com/peter-pan-goes-wrong

guys-and-dolls-sit-down6) Guys and Dolls. Originally only booking for a limited season at the Savoy before heading off on a U.K tour, the Chichester transfer of the show I consider to be the greatest Broadway musical of all time is now moving to the Phoenix after it ends its run at the Savoy on March 12, to resume performances March 19. A separate company will fulfil the touring obligations. See my review of the Savoy opening for The Stage here. Website: http://www.guysanddollsthemusical.co.uk/

funny-girl7) Funny Girl. The entire run at the Menier (to March 5) is sold out — but it moves to the Savoy next from April 8 (to take over from Guys and Dolls, see above), so book now to see the wonderful Sheridan Smith starring in the first major London revival of Jule Styne’s 1960s musical since its original premiere on Broadway and in the West End featured Barbra Streisand in the title role (as well as in the subsequent film version). Seen my review for The Stage here. My interview with Sheridan Smith for The Stage is here. Website: http://www.funnygirlthemusical.co.uk/
GreyGardens8) Grey Gardens. The 2006 Broadway musical based on the true story of a reclusive mother and daughter who lived in squalor in an East Hampton mansion and were related to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis receives its London premiere in a  production starring the great Sheila Hancock and Jenna Russell, running to February 6. See my review for The Stage here. Website: http://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/the-large/grey-gardens/

andy-nyman-hangmen9) Hangmen. Martin McDonagh’s latest thriller chiller comedy stars David Morrissey and Johnny Flynn, newly joined by Andy Nyman for its West End transfer to Wyndham’s (where it runs to March 5) from the Royal Court. My review of the Royal Court opening for London Theatre Guide is here. My interview with Andy Nyman (pictured above) for The Stage is here. Website: http://www.delfontmackintosh.co.uk/Tickets/Hangmen/Hangmen.asp

homecoming10) The Homecoming. Jamie Lloyd directs an insinuatingly creepy, beautifully acted production of Pinter’s masterpiece about a family battle for possession and control, running at Trafalgar Studios to February 13. The cast features Keith Allen, Gemma Chan, Ron Cook, Gary Kemp, John Macmillan and John Simm.  Website: http://thejamielloydcompany.com/our-shows/the-homecoming