Ramin Karimloo is the busiest Canadian on Broadway.
Born in Tehran and raised in Peterborough and Richmond Hill, Ramin has become a household name in musical theatre over the past two decades. After building his name (and his home) on the West End in London, he made his Broadway debut transferring his performance as Jean Valjean from Toronto’s pre-Broadway mounting of Les Misérables. He later returned to New York in 2017 as the antagonist Gleb in Anastasia, and is currently playing Nicky Arnstein to Lea Michele and Julie Benko’s Fanny Brice in the Broadway revival of Funny Girl.
Lest you believe it stopped there, he has simultaneously appeared in star-studded Broadway concert productions of The Pirates of Penzance and Chess (reprising his role as Anatoly from several prior productions), as well as a new musical/professional-wrestling event entitled The Last Match, shortly after having been a part of several concert productions in London (Songs for a New World, Camelot, and Sunset Boulevard come to mind). If that wasn’t enough, he’s found his footing as a screen actor with the ITV soap opera Holby City, the movie musical Tomorrow Morning with Les Mis and Chess co-star Samantha Barks, and an upcoming performance as William Wright in The Stratum.
Ramin is likely the most high profile Canadian musical theatre artist working right now, and in honour of his newest credit in The Stratum, I had the opportunity to speak with Broadway’s most avid juggler.
This interview has been edited slightly for formatting and length.
You grew up with a largely athletic background in Richmond Hill — what got you bit by the artistic bug?
It was a day trip in Grade 7 to go and see The Phantom of the Opera in Toronto. Seeing that masterpiece with Colm Wilkinson at the helm was life changing, to say the least. I left the theatre knowing I wanted to, well, play the Phantom and become an actor.
You’ve been keeping busy post-lockdown! You were on the road with Seth Rudetsky, hot off the tails from your numerous concert presentations, all while starring in Funny Girl. How do you stay afloat juggling all of that work?
Well, when it’s a passion it’s not a chore. I love creating and trying to be diverse in what I do. I’m away from my family, so I might as well keep myself growing artistically as much as I can. I love working with different people and different creatives. I’ll be honest though, I did get a little burnt out when it was all done with the double duty. So I took a bit of time, and I’m trying not to fill up my schedule so much. I’m grateful to be playing Nicky Arnstein nightly — that’s a gift in itself.
Chess in particular is a show you’ve returned to rather often over the past few years. What’s kept you coming back to this musical?
I love the story and score. There’s a lot of heart in Chess. Also seeing how it’s evolving with Danny Strong’s book, having had a chance to work on two different productions side by side (one here in [the United States], and one in Japan). I’m a fan of the show. I hope it gets a theatre soon so it can get a run it deserves.
I was lucky to catch you last year as Nicky Arnstein in the hotly anticipated (and first ever!) Broadway revival of Funny Girl. Audiences have flocked to this revival big time to see if it lived up to the hype. I’m curious how you navigated your work with so many eyes on the production.
I’m somewhat used to having so many eyes on productions. I’ve been very fortunate to work in such big shows playing iconic characters. Some might see it as pressure with so many opinions, expectations, or preconceived ideas of the characters or story that they hold dear, but I just see it as a wave of excitement and support. Ultimately, I will create the character I want to play and serve the piece with the creatives. After that, it’s not really my business what other people think about it. I just love getting the chance to do what I do. I’ll sit in the joy of that nightly. The rest just will be what it will be.
Your on-screen debut on Holby City introduced you to a whole new wave of audiences. Considering that and your newest project, The Stratum, how do you approach the craft of camera acting vs. theatrical acting?
I focus on the truth of the character and how to serve the story best. I put trust in the director and [director of photography], and everyone who contributes to making the show/film to do what they are there to do. Collectively, we’re all there to make something special. I’m not afraid to create a dialogue with the director before we shoot a scene — in fact, I prefer that. I want to know what they want to get from the shot. The boundaries in which I can play or we can play with scene partners. Then, I trust the team to take what I/we do in the shot and piece all together beautifully.
The Stratum has you playing William Wright, a powerful energy magnate sheltering his daughter from the world. What drew you to the part?
I liked the concept of the story. I was also really intrigued by Crash [Buist] and Lauren [Senechal]’s process of putting this film together. To get this film created and shot with such ingenuity was incredibly inspiring. When I heard about them and what they were doing I wanted to be around them to see how they work. That initiative. Incredible!
What’s next down the pipeline? More musicals, more screen-time — even more Chess?
Well, as I write this answer we’ve just announced that I will play the Phantom again for the first time since the 25th anniversary production we did in 2011. I’ll be part of creating a brand-new production which will premiere in Italy, which is very exciting for me. I’ve never performed in Italy, nor has Phantom been mounted there. Early May, I’ll be in London for a one night performance of Dr. Zhivago, so it’ll be nice to get back home to the UK to perform that beautiful piece.
As we wrap up, I have to ask (semi-selfishly): any plans for a Toronto visit any time soon?
I hope so. I really do. I would love to shoot a long series in Toronto so I can spend time back on Canadian soil.
You can catch Ramin in his new film, The Stratum, here.
thanks, Nam N