Post-Brexit, Iranian-Canadian actor-singer ex-Phantom ex-Valjean Ramin Karimloo might be pondering his future on the London stage. But he's here this month with his band for a one-nighter at the Palladium fusing bluegrass with Broadway. Karimloo's huge phalanx of female fans are agog.
Paul Ewing caught up with Karimloo following his Tony-nominated Broadway run in Les Miserables where he gained attention for not just his vocals but, like the Valjean character, his extraordinary physical strength.
Fitness seems to be part of the performance. Do you find your body reacts well to whatever you throw at it?
I did bodybuilding for Valjean and gained 20 pounds of muscle, eating 5,000 calories a day. Movie stars do this for a scene and then go back to normal but I was thinking, how do I keep this up? I didn't think this through but I've since shed about 12 of those pounds so I can walk around a bit more normally. Now I just enjoy it.
I was lifting 500 pounds! In Les Miserables I had to tear my shirt off, and when the audience sees a ripped guy with a six pack, it's great marketing. But it also shows that guy has done the work.
Is it a new trend to demand that thirtysomething male performers look physically fit in roles? What’s your training regime?
I think it has always been there. You look at Hollywood, Brando in his prime was fit. I know I can mess this up: give me a month of food! I'm still body building but I love to be able to jump high and keep that agility. I do sprints. Working on Broadway I moved to Washington Heights and cycle eight miles to work, do the matinee, go bodybuilding, strength training, do the evening show, and then cycle eight miles home.
If you weren’t a performer you could be an athlete?
I didn't really work out until I got the role of Valjean. I exercised a bit for Miss Saigon. If you’re playing a GI you have to take your shirt off. But at Les Mis in London, Cameron Mackintosh saw me on opening night in my dressing room getting changed with my shirt off. He came in and said, "Somebody’s in their thirties darling," pointing at my belly. I looked down and knew he was right.
I got the Insanity programme, and did it exactly as it said from the diet to the DVD. The first day I almost died. But when I finished it, I was in the best shape. From then I studied bodybuilding and worked with bodybuilders, and it became a way of life.
How are plans for the Palladium coming along?
The band is excited to keep developing the sound we've kind of invented, 'Broadgrass' where Broadway meets Bluegrass.
When people come and see the show, my favourite comment is that it just looks like a bunch of friends singing around a kitchen sink. We include the expected hits, the Bring Him Home and Music of the Night. But we're still experimenting with musical styles. Some days we will be like, 'let's play it like this, they won't expect this. I have new ideas about how I would them to sound this time around'.
We're not doing this to make money or get record deals. This is a passion project so let’s be passionate about it.
Ramin Karimloo is at the London Palladium, 16 July at 7.30pm. Remaining seats £31.95-£61.50