Few actors have the vocal and acting chops — and the pure stamina — to play Jean Valjean in Les Miserables or the Phantom in Phantom of the Opera, let alone both of those landmark leading-man roles. But Ramin Karimloo has played both roles (and then some, in both musicals), a feat that’s established him as one of the pre-eminent leading men of his generation. But Karimloo has a musical life away from the Broadway stage as well, playing bluegrass-inflected tunes with his band, and in advance of two recent shows at B.B. King’s in New York, he stopped by the Billboard on Broadway Podcast to chat about his unique career path.
“To this day, I haven’t seen Wizard of Oz or Sound of Music,” Karimloo says of his upbringing in an Iranian family in Canada, where he came to musical theater relatively late. “It wasn’t part of my family DNA.” It was on a school trip to see Phantom, starring Broadway legend Colm Wilkinson, that he began to think of musical theater as something he could related to. “He’s got such a soulful voice,” Karimloo recalls of hearing Wilkinson sing. “It was really a sound of his own. His voice was able to suck your emotion right out of your body. And the part was so cool.”
Karimloo goes on to discuss his diverse musical influences, including the artists his brother and father introduced him to, like Johnny Cash, Kenny Rogers and The Tragically Hip. He was attracted to “storytelling with the country sound,” a theme that now extends to Karimloo’s own music. The Hip, in particular, were idols: “There was something theatrical about Gordon Downey and about them as a band too.”
Listen to Karimloo’s full chat with host Rebecca Milzoff on this week’s episode: