The Gleb Club
by Loy Bernal Carlos
THE REMARKABLE RISE OF RAMIN KARIMLOO
One evening, another theater legend, Les Mis and Miss Saigon producer, Cameron Mackintosh passed by his dressing room. After eyeing the shirtless lead, the producer quips, “Looks like somebody got into his 30s.” That was all it took for Ramin to resolve to get his body in top shape.
Explains Ramin, “For me it’s just become part of life, and it’s helped me to connect to the role that I’m playing. When I did Valjean, I looked at it and said, ‘Hey, this guy is supposed to be in the prime of his life,’ and I certainly wasn’t meeting that image physically, so I thought I have to become that.” Hence with the assistance and support of his own fitness-minded wife, he started a 60-day circuit program called Insanity. That was just the beginning. And he hasn’t looked back or slowed his health regimen since.
2013 takes Ramin back to his adopted country in the Toronto production of Les Mis. The leading man recalls a particularly moving evening when Colm Wilkinson played the “Bishop” for just one night and handed Ramin the silver candlesticks. It was a figurative if not literal passing of the torch. Fans argue though, that it was a duet that brought the house down, especially a certain ending when Ramin graciously backed away, leaving the spotlight and allowing his idol the last, ethereal “Bring Him Home.”
When the Toronto production wrapped up, instead of heading back to London, the new Jean Valjean got ready for his Broadway debut in the show’s 2014 revival. By then, the thespian had already earned a reputation for thoroughly researching the characters he would play, studying them, and finding new nuances to illuminate. He decided to evoke a much more spiritual, prayerful Valjean. But what is soul without the body?
He had already developed impeccable physique and abs so impressive the production made it its own theater draw, an unforgettable prop like the Phantom’s chandelier or the helicopter in Miss Saigon. Ramin’s Valjean, abs and all, was a phenomenon that hit the papers, one that saw even the liberal leaning New York Times and the conservative New York Post agree. But it was his exemplary, heartrending and gritty performance that earned him a Tony nomination for Best Actor in a Musical.
Interviewed by the New York Times at the time, Will Swenson who played Javert in the production perfectly describes Karimloo. “There are tenors and there are baritones, and then there are those few people who are genetic mutations, who take all the weight of the baritone and take it up into the tenor register, so it sounds huge and full even up on those high notes. Ramin can sail up high, and it doesn’t seem like he’s carrying the weight of the world. You never fear: ‘Is he going to hit that note?’.”
But things don’t go without a hitch all the time. “I was in my dressing room during the show one night going over some sides for an audition I had the next day,” Ramin narrated, “and there was a knock on my door. It was the stage manager, and he came in really calmly and said, ‘Hey Ramin, aren’t you supposed to be on stage right now?’ And I looked up at him, listened to the intercom to see what part of the show we were at, and replied with that same calmness, ‘Yeah, yeah I am’….and then ran to get on stage. I completely missed my entrance and poor Samantha Hill who was playing Cosette was just left hanging…when I got on stage I sang my line and just looked into her eyes, and tried to say “I am so sorry, I am so sorry, please don’t kill me…” He joked that people find it pretty funny now, but it sure wasn’t a laughing matter to him then. “I felt awful.”
By 2016 Ramin had released his second EP entitled, The Road to Find Out: South. And this year, he is back again on Broadway playing lead antagonist Gleb Vaganov, a new character on the Broadway version of Disney’s Anastasia. So magnetic is his portrayal that many in the audience find themselves oddly rooting for Gleb over the “good guy,” Dimitry, played by Derek Klena (Wicked, Bridges of Madison County). The Phantom mesmerizes yet again.
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The singer reveals that, for him, family is the most important thing. “Performing is great, and it’s fun. But that’s just the job. I try to put my relationship with my wife and my kids, Hadley and Jaiden before everything else.” With the family in England and him performing in New York, Ramin concedes that it gets difficult. Given some reasonable time off, “I’d spend it all at home in England. We just moved into a new house, so I’m anxious to get back there and get settled.”
RAMIN KARIMLOO as GLEB in ANASTASIA photo by Matthew Murphy