If you’re not yet familiar with Ramin Karimloo, best known for his portrayal of Jean Valjean in Les Miserables and the Phantom in Phantom of the Opera in London’s West End, his touring show, Broadway to Bluegrass, adds a twang to his otherwise sophisticated repertoire. In his upcoming appearance at The Birchmere this Thursday, May 16th at 7:30 PM, Karimloo will bring a captivating blend of what he’s best known for and some down-home country heart and soul to his fans as well as a newly found audience. I asked Ramin a few questions about his journey from the theater singing classically dramatic songs, to the traditional American roots of bluegrass.
Where did your love of bluegrass come from?
I’ve always loved folk and country. But when I saw the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? the music made my hair stand on end and spoke to my heart. For me, the sound of the banjo is one of the happiest and haunting sounds all at the same time and that sort of singing, with a straight tone and not trying to color the voice – is real story telling. It really opened the doors for me.
How did Broadway to Bluegrass get started?
When I signed with Sony, I did an album and started touring with that and as the tour evolved, I started writing more and actually having more ideas in respect to the kind of production I wanted to put out. I actually wanted less and less musicians on tour. I started with an orchestra and now I’m down to five people. I really wanted an earthy sound with roots. But then I thought, “ How are we gonna make the sound inside the theatre work?“ I didn’t want to pretend to be an orchestra. I wanted the audience to see what they heard and vice versa. So we worked our instruments into the songs. We found a way to play the songs without losing any of their integrity. I call it “Broadgrass.”
Do all the divergent flavors of your music represent you as a person?
I was actually thinking about that over the last few days. I come from such a culturally diverse lifestyle. I was born in Iran, then lived in Italy, and grew up in Canada. Later I was in London and now it looks like I’ll be in the States for a while. I’ve traveled a lot and I’m still trying to make sense of it all. You take it for granted. Now I’m in my thirties and I look back on it and think I’d like to relive some of it. I think about how diverse it has been. All the different cultures I’ve taken in and I think the music really reflects that.
Right now it’s my own show. I put together the things I want to do and the songs I want to sing. I never want to sing something just for the audience because then I feel I’m cheating them. Because if my heart’s not in it, they wont be getting a full show. An Iranian born musical theatre actor singing bluegrass inspired songs. I mean you can’t write that.
How do your musical theatre fans feels about your broadening horizons?
For the most part they like it. I think as an artist I have to go where my heart leads me. I wont be able to please all of the people all of the time and I don’t intend to because how can you? For those who like it, I’m happy. For those who don’t, I’m still doing theatre.
Are you getting any radio play?
We’ve had some, but it’s nothing I’m pushing right now because the music is evolving. I’ve turned away playing at certain places because I don’t want us to go there yet. I want us to do this tour and then I’m going to go away and think about the show some more. The last tour and this tour are completely different. The musicians and I have been together longer so we’re tighter and the songs and the arrangements have gotten better. I’m in no rush. I’m enjoying myself.
Ramin Karimloo’s website.