The Gleb Club
by Loy Bernal Carlos
THE REMARKABLE RISE OF RAMIN KARIMLOO
Born in Tehran, Ramin Karimloo, 38, was an infant when his family moved in 1979, first to Rome for two years then finally to Ontario, Canada. His father worked as an Imperial Guard in Iran and his mother was a tailor until the Islamic Revolution overthrew the Shah of Iran and ended the rule of the Pahlavi dynasty. Growing up in Petersborough in Central Ontario, 75 miles northeast of Toronto, it was inevitable that the boy would spend a good part of his childhood playing hockey (left wing). Lots of it. His family would later move to Richmond Hill.
But it was a school trip to Toronto when he was twelve years old that redefined the path to his future. The Phantom of the Opera was the first musical he had ever seen. Going in he had anticipated disliking a musical, instead the boy found himself shaken by it. He recalled holding back tears, repeating to himself that hockey players didn’t cry. Still, he had a deep connection with the character and had such admiration for the performance that he told friends he’ll be the guy behind the mask one day.
“Colm Wilkinson has inspired me since I was a kid,” the actor relates. “He was playing the Phantom the first time I saw a musical. The way he told that story–it made me say, I can do that. I want to do that. I’m lucky enough to call him a pal now, and that’s never lost on me.”
But back then, Ramin did not have the means to pay for vocal training. He was limited to reading books on acting and studying them. At 18, he dropped out of school. And like many aspiring theater performers, he began his career auditioning for and performing in various minor theater productions and cruise ships... not exactly the best stepping off point, but a usual one nonetheless.
In one such cruise, he would meet Amanda Ramsden (Mandy), now his wife. Twenty years later, he is still as madly in love as a teenager, and she still serves as his inspiration. “She manages to be both the strongest, smartest, and sexiest woman I know,” he declares. “And she’s the mother of my children!”
In 2001, Mandy and Ramin decided to move to England where he got work in a factory that makes hand dryers. He found a voice teacher on a message board of a dance studio who would later give him the name of an agent. From there, he landed minor roles in various national tours including The Pirates of Penzance and Sunset Boulevard.
The following year saw Ramin making his West End debut playing Feuilly in Les Misérables and understudying Marius and Enjolras.
2003 saw the fast rising star take one of the lead roles, Raoul Vicomte de Chagny, in The Phantom of the Opera. As fate would have it, it was during the audition for this when he would first come across director Laurence Connor whom he would work with at a much later Broadway revival of Les Mis. In a past interview with the New York Times, Mr. Connor recalls noting of Ramin’s audition, “Great look. Great voice. Not sure where he fits.” The actor’s success despite not falling under a certain look or type is exactly what makes Ramin’s stellar ascent even more remarkable.
In 2004, he returned to London’s Les Mis as Enjolras, before taking on the lead role of Christopher Scott in the 2005 U.K. national tour of Miss Saigon.
The game changer occurred in 2007 when Ramin Karimloo was picked as the youngest Phantom ever at age 29. He would continue playing the role until 2009, when he was plucked by theater giant Andrew Lloyd Webber for the Phantom sequel, Love Never Dies, starring alongside Sierra Boggess. His performance in this production would earn him his first Laurence Olivier Award nomination.
Although the sequel did not enjoy quite the success of the original, the world took notice of its leading man. Ramin’s portrayal of the lovestruck Phantom was punctuated and memorialized by Till I Hear You Sing, a stirring song from the show that underscores the pain and yearning of one so haplessly in love. It’s the musical’s runaway hit that may forever be associated with Ramin, in much the same way Bring Him Home is with Colm Wilkinson.
By the end of 2011 into 2012, Ramin is back in The Queen’s Theatre London production of Les Misérables, this time in the starring role of Jean Valjean for which he won the Theatregoer’s Choice Award for Best Takeover in a Role. It was also the year he released his first album, Human Heart, and the year that ignited a new passion–fitness.
RAMIN KARIMLOO jacket, shirt, pants John Varvatos