Tag Archives: Les Miserables

Ramin Karimloo & Seth Rudetsky at The Herbst

The Herbst: Ramin Karimloo with Seth Rudetsky

Last night I spent a terrific evening with theatre fans at the Herbst Theatre. It was my first time at this intimate venue in the War Memorial, located on Van Ness Avenue across from City Hall. I read reviews on Yelp that said the balcony was either steamy hot or downright chilly, so I dressed in layers. From my excellent seat in the second row center of the Dress Circle, everything was just right.

I arrived early and caught the last part of the ‘No One Is Above The Law’ protest in front of City Hall, just before protesters started a march to Mission Street. City Hall was all lit up in blue lights. Once I arrived in the lobby of the War Memorial, I had time to study the banners commemorating WWI. The Herbst opened at 7pm, so I spent the next half hour chatting with the folks sitting around me. I laughed with a woman in the first row who loves Phantom of the Opera but can’t stand Les Mis, because I’m the exact opposite. We were happy to agree to disagree. The nice fellow sitting on my left helped me during the concert with songs from shows I didn’t recognize. He also gave me his take on the local production of The Boy From Oz that I’m seeing next week.

I became obsessed with Ramin Karimloo and Hadley Fraser back in 2010, when they appeared as Enjolras and Grantaire in the Les Misérables 25th Anniversary Concert, which aired here on PBS. For many months after, my blog here was taken over by West End guest posts and Les Mis/Phantom screen caps. Ultimately, blogging about West End actors from afar proved more frustrating than entertaining. Fast forward eight years, and Ramin Karimloo finally came to San Francisco. I had to be there for his first ever performance in my city, and he didn’t disappoint.

Seth Rudetsky played host, interviewer, pianist, and sparring partner. Rudetsky and Karimloo sat in chairs and chatted about Karimloo’s life story and career. They’d get up to perform a song, then sit down again for more chat. There were plenty of laughs, especially at Rudetsky’s numerous attempts to get a Valjean/Javert duet going. The women in the audience sang the Sandy part to Summer Loving (Grease), while Karimloo and Rudetsky struggled (and argued) over the lyrics to Danny’s part. Karimloo’s “She went down in the sand” was wrong but awesome.

It was fun to hear Karimloo discuss his life and career, even though I was familiar with most of his bio already. Folks down in the orchestra were calling out comments during the interview, and we couldn’t hear much of what they said from the balcony. It was the only frustrating part of the evening. Rudetsky must have thought everyone could hear, because he kept asking those folks if they were wearing microphones. I was hoping for some mention of Karimloo’s friendship with Hadley Fraser, Sheytoons (Karimloo and Fraser’s bluegrass band), and Anastasia, but they didn’t come up. Karimloo discussed his bet with a teenage friend that he’d one day play the Phantom, his admiration for and friendship with Colm Wilkinson, meeting his wife during an audition for a cruise ship, his brief stint in Sunset Boulevard, and how he was cast in Love Never Dies. He also talked about his initial reluctance to play Valjean (Les Mis).

Here’s the set list, not in strict order, since I was too busy enjoying myself to take notes:

Moving Too Fast (The First Five Years)

Summer Loving (Grease)

It All Fades Away (The Bridges of Madison County) with Ramin on guitar

Sunset Boulevard

Anthem (Chess)

The Pirate King (Pirates of Penzance)

Bring Him Home (Les Misérables)

Music of The Night (Phantom of the Opera)

Til I Hear You Sing (Love Never Dies)

Muddy Water (Big River)

Make Them Hear You (Ragtime)

Ol Man River (Show Boat) with Ramin on guitar

The Confrontation (Les Misérables) with Rudetsky singing Javert

After the concert, I went to the stage door, where a few folks with paid Meet & Greet tickets waited in line. I stayed further back and had a great time chatting to several fans. Eliza was at my Aaron Tveit concert in September, and Elena from Bath told us she was in the audience at the 25th anniversary Phantom at the Royal Albert Hall. Seth Rudetsky stopped to say hello to us. The last fellow in the Meet & Greet line showed us his photos with Karimloo, and we discovered a shared passion for Greek tenor Mario Frangoulis. I was still chatting with Eliza and Elena when Karimloo came out with several others, so we got to thank him for the show. We didn’t ask for photos and autographs; just seeing him up close was enough. When I came out of the building, Karimloo was taking photos of the blue City Hall. I told him to come back soon, then rushed off to catch my late night bus.

Okay, so now it’s time for Hadley Fraser. Come perform in San Francisco, please!

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Two Very Different Videos

Last week, the first trailer for Les Misérables hit the internet.  I’m late in sharing it, and I assume most of the folks who are keen about the upcoming film will have seen it already.  My feelings about the trailer are very mixed, but I will wait for the actual movie before judging.  I’ll always have the original London production and cast in my heart, but I was able to embrace most of the 25th anniversary production.  The movie is yet another step in the musical journey.

 

My obsession with the TV western Laramie and star Robert Fuller continues.  I made a little tribute video on YouTube.  The quality of the images reflect the fuzzy nature of the DVDs, but I just love this character!

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Happy Birthday, Hadley Fraser (2012)

Today is Hadley Fraser’s birthday.  Currently playing Javert in Les Misérables, this West End performer is about to take a quick break from the stage to appear in the movie version of Les Mis.  (He’s playing the army officer who calls out to the student revolutionaries, “You at the barricades, listen to this!  No one is coming to help you to fight!” and all that.)   My friend and guest blogger extraordinaire, Scolytinae, has written this fine tribute to Mr. Fraser, in honor of his special day:

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Happy Birthday, Hadley – the Metal Monkey

According to the Chinese, people born under the Year of the Monkey are good at mastering anything they put their hands to and are highly successful. Those born during the period of the Metal Monkey are motivated by constancy, are self reliant and stylish, and have a good memory. Quite an accurate description of the lovely Mr. Hadley Fraser, who is, by anyone’s standards, having an amazing year.  From a triumphant return to the West End in Les Misérables, the show that marked his professional debut 10 years ago, to a stunning performance in The Phantom of the Opera 25th Anniversary, Hadley hasn’t stopped working.  He has filming for the Les Misérables movie still to come next month.  But it’s not been all high profile public performances. In his quiet and unassuming manner, Hadley has also lent his support to charity by taking part in Les Mis Gives, performed shows and cabarets alongside friends and colleagues and, most recently, lent his magnificent voice to the concept album for the prospective new musical The In-Between by new young writer Laura Tisdall—all fitted round a demanding 8 show a week schedule as Inspector Javert, without fuss or fanfares.

He may disagree, but I feel he lives and breathes music in all its many and varied forms. Yes he can (and does) belt out a West End show stopper onstage, but just listen to him perform some of his own beautiful compositions for Sheytoons, or deliver the beautiful ballads of friend Scott Alan, and you begin to appreciate the depth of talent he has. Acting, singing, arranging, writing—he seems to epitomise that monkey by indeed mastering anything he puts his hand to.

As his year in the West End nears its end—his last performance is on 16th June 2012—I can’t help but wonder, what’s next for Hadley? Whatever it may be, rest assured he will have an army of dedicated fans wishing him all the best as he embarks on the next phase of an amazing career.

So it’s with the greatest of pleasure that I say “Thank you” and “Happy Birthday, Mr Fraser!”  Enjoy your day, because you certainly deserve the very best that life has to offer.

Thank you, Scolytinae, I couldn’t have said it more eloquently.  I too wish Hadley Fraser a great birthday.  May the cake flow, and save me slice of champagne!  (Perhaps we shouldn’t have started celebrating so early…)

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Les Misérables: The Day of The Understudies!

Once again, my friend Scolytinae brings us a review of the West End production of Les Misérables, after her excellent piece on the version with Alfie Boe as Valjean last autumn.  She and her husband braved the bad winter weather to see Ramin Karimloo in the role, only to be met with a few surprises:

Let’s be honest, you don’t actually need an excuse for a repeat visit to Les Misérables, but I must admit that the prospect of seeing Ramin Karimloo as Jean Valjean persuaded us to make a return trip only 4 short months after our last excursion.  So you can imagine our disappointment when on arrival at Queen’s Theatre, we were greeted with notices in the foyer stating that due to the indisposition of Ramin Karimloo, the role of Jean Valjean would be played by Christopher Jacobsen.

Settled in our seats, we philosophically decided that “these things happen.” As a Twitter user I knew that Ramin’s recent Japanese tour had taken a lot out of him and that he was struggling, but then came an announcement that the roles of Marius and Enjolras would also be played by understudies.  We looked at each other—this would definitely be a different show to the one we had seen last September!

However, I would now like to go on record to say that this was one of the finest performances I have ever seen.  Christopher Jacobsen was simply stunning.  A powerful actor as well as singer, he brought us a Valjean of contrasts—burning passion at the injustices he suffered, yet a quiet dignity as he determined to throw off his past, start again, and make things right.  Opposite the magnificent Hadley Fraser as Javert, it felt like a whole new dynamic had appeared as the two of them faced off against each other, on occasion speaking rather than singing some of their lines as they circled each other, vying for control of the situation.

I thought Hadley was fabulous when I saw him last year, but over the ensuing months, his Javert has evolved—still intractable and inexorably driven, but now almost a sense of vulnerability.  Valjean’s manner and treatment of him was just so far outside his view of the natural order that he simply could not cope.  There was a particularly poignant moment during the suicide scene where he sings “I am the law and the law is not mocked.” At this point, he valiantly tries to regain his control and composure by pulling his lapels together and buttoning up that iconic overcoat—magic.  Thunderous applause greeted both his featured songs, and rightly so. This man is a true performer.

Marius was played by the impossibly cute Fra Fee—and what a fabulous performance it was.  Such depth and emotion from one so young; I am not ashamed to admit to a few tears after “A Little Fall of Rain,” beautifully portrayed opposite the superb Alexia Khadime.  I’m sure my hubby won’t mind me saying that he reached for the tissues too at this point!  What a beautiful voice this young man has, and such presence on stage.  I sincerely hope he’s a name to watch out for in the future.

Enjolras was beautifully played by Scott Garnham, who led his students with an understated strength and authority.  I just loved the interaction between all the students, and Adam Linstead’s Grantaire was a triumph.  In fact, I was so impressed by everyone who stepped up to fill roles vacated by the leads.  If I have to be critical, and maybe I should to prove that I can be objective where Les Mis is concerned, the only weak spot was the youngster who played Gavroche. Whether it was down to nerves, I don’t know, but he had a rather shaky start, rushing some of his lines and throwing some away completely.  He did soon settle down, and there was a huge gasp from the audience during the scene where he was shot whilst collecting ammunition.  You know, I must be getting old, because both he and the young girl playing Cosette seemed so small and fragile, almost like they should be at home tucked up in bed rather than up onstage!!

If there were any negative vibes emanating from people who bought tickets expecting to see Ramin Karimloo, then Christopher Jacobsen certainly wasn’t affected by them.  It must be a daunting feeling to step onstage knowing that many people in the audience wish you weren’t there.  Christopher simply took the audience by storm, and seemed genuinely overwhelmed by his rapturous reception at the end.  So much so that, after taking center stage for a few seconds, he called the cast back onstage to join him for another bow, to happily acknowledge the lengthy standing ovation which was a fitting end to a truly incredible show.  A day of understudies it may have been, but it is a tribute to the depth of talent in British musical theatre that this didn’t matter one iota—we heard the people sing, and they were fantastic!

Thank you, Scolytinae!  It sounds like a great afternoon of theatre.  It looks like we’ll have to add Christopher Jacobsen, Fra Fee, and Scott Garnham to our growing list of favorite West End actors.

See also: Beg, Borrow or Steal to See Les Misérables

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2012: What I’m Excited About

Here’s a random list of some of the stuff I’m hoping will entertain me in the new year:

Books:  I’m on a long library waiting list for PD James’ Death Comes to Pemberley.  It’s a murder mystery featuring the characters from Pride & Prejudice.  Mr Wickham gets bumped off, and I’m sure everybody is a suspect.  It fascinates me that the reviewers at Amazon are equally split between rating this book brilliant and awful.  I myself have tried many P & P sequels and failed to finish them.   I’m also looking forward to a book that’s coming out in spring, but I don’t even know the title or author.  All I know is that the cover photo will be one of my images of Ireland, posted last year at the beginning of January.

Television:  Downton Abbey Series Two begins a week from today.  Also this month, Ian Tracey guest stars on Supernatural (January 6th) and in the pilot for the new Fox series Alcatraz (January 16th or 23rd, or perhaps both?).   A friend just told me there’s a new Doc Martin series coming later in the year, as well as Sherlock, Great Expectations, Wallander, Endeavor, and Inspector Lewis.  Finally, The Phantom of the Opera 25th Anniversary at the Royal Albert will get a PBS airing.

Movies:  2012 will be a countdown to The Hobbit and the movie version of Les Misérables.  While waiting for next Christmas, I am curious about The Amazing Spider-Man with Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, both actors I enjoy watching.  For March, I have a hugely expensive ticket to the silent masterpiece Abel Gance’s Napoleon, restored by Kevin Brownlow.  It will be shown on a triptych of three screens with a full orchestra.  This five hour epic at Oakland’s Paramount Theatre includes a dinner break!

DVDs:  February brings The Phantom of the Opera to the US, months after the folks in the UK got their DVDs.  I’m looking forward to The Help, since I missed it in the theatre.  Of course, that’s true for most of the other good movies in 2011.

Theatre:  The touring productions of Les Misérables and War Horse are coming to San Francisco.  I’ve got to get tickets, which means being more careful with my entertainment budget.  Damn you, Amazon and ebay!  No more impulse buying!

More New Year’s Resolutions:

1.  Keep better notes for next year’s Wrap Up.

2.  Read more, surf less.  (I’ve been on the computer way too much lately.)

3.  Get out to see more films in the cinema.

4.  You may have noticed a change in how I’m posting photographs here.  I’ve switched to slideshows in a effort to save on scrolling, but it also makes it harder for people to steal my images.  My goal is to take more photographs in 2012 and to see less of them posted on other sites without credit.

This is my 200th post at The Ugly Bug Ball!  I’m not planning to post more often in 2012, but I do hope to keep things going steadily along, with lots of new topics and not too much repetition.  Suggestions are always welcome.

Please share some of your resolutions and anticipations for 2012!

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My Year End Wrap Up 2011

Another year comes to a close, so now it’s time to reflect back over what entertained me in 2011.  I just looked at the wrap up from last year, to get an idea of how far I’ve come in twelve months.  It’s clear that my focus has shifted in two directions.   I spent a large part of this year with my head in London, after watching the 25th anniversary concert of Les Misérables in March.  I also headed back to the past in a big way, once I started watching RetroTV and MeTV during a summer of unbearable television on the big networks.   These two obsessions have a major influence on my best and worst list of 2011.

Best Books:  Most of the novels I liked this year were written for children and teens.  I particularly enjoyed Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool (the 2011 Newbery Award winner) and Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John.  Guitar Boy by MJ Auch and Countdown by Deborah Wiles weren’t perfect, but they each stayed with me long after reading.  My favorite non-fiction book was The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean, which managed to make the periodic table interesting to someone who barely paid attention to science in high school.  The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan was a little book filled with some gems, and it goes into the “hard to categorize” category.  The funniest books were Demitri Martin’s This is A Book, and Heads You Lose by Lisa Lutz & David Hayward.  The biggest disappointments were The Sherlockian by Graham Moore and The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz.  The lesson here is to give up on Sherlock Holmes in books and stick to the BBC.

Best Television:  The Big Bang Theory remains my favorite sitcom, just for being consistently funny.  The best line: “Let’s hurry up and watch this Star Wars blu-ray before George Lucas changes it again!” (Sorry for the paraphrase.)  NCIS consistently underwhelmed me, and I’m can’t help wondering if I’ll give up on it soon.  In spite of my declaration to boycott Masterpiece on PBS, I still watched and enjoyed Downton Abbey, Rufus Sewell as Aurelio Zen, Jason Isaac as Jackson Brodie, and the Inspector Lewis mysteries.  I spent my summer wrapped up in the old series Da Vinci’s Inquest, and my winter has been dominated by reruns of The Rifleman.  Overall, the television program with the biggest impact this year was the Les Mis concert on PBS.

Best Twitter:  Last year, Matthew Gray Gubler was my favorite tweeter.  He’s still whimsical and original, but now most of his tweets are links to his tumblr page.  I hate tumbr, so this is a big strike against him.  Sorry, Gube.  West End performer Hadley Fraser can be great on twitter, but he goes quiet for long stretches.  Ramin Karimloo tweets with sincerity, but all those tattoo photos freak me out!  Matt Lucas, Josh Groban and Yigit Pura have been consistently entertaining, and Shah Rukh Khan’s twitter feed has a good balance of the personal and professional.

Best Movies:  I did slightly better than last year getting out to see new films on the big screen.  I really enjoyed X-Men: First Class, The Descendants, and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.   I’m not sure The Phantom of The Opera 25th Anniversary simulcast even counts in this category!  At the Frameline Film Festival, I enjoyed Kawa and Spork.  I have many more late 2011 films to see on DVD when they’re released in 2012.

Best DVDs:  I watched a lot of bad DVDs this year, just because they featured actors that I liked.  I really need to get over this habit!  While not necessarily bad, I endured a lot of fighting and CGI in movies like Thor, Captain America, and Centurion, just so I could see actors Tom Hiddleston, Chris Hemsworth, JJ Feild, and Michael Fassbender.  I tried to watch all ten Best Picture Oscar nominees on DVD, but I faltered at 7½.  I did love The King’s Speech.  I hate to admit it, but I think my most entertaining DVD experience this year was re-watching JJ Abrams’ Star Trek with a friend.

Best StreamingDa Vinci’s Inquest and The Rifleman on hulu were great, even though I was also watching these series on broadcast television.  The worst: when Netflix split their charges for DVDs by mail versus streaming.  I tried a month of streaming only.  It was a disaster.  Nothing I wanted to watch would play without long pauses to reload.  Now that I’m getting DVDs only, the Netflix site doesn’t tell me what is available streaming only.  Netflix, you’ve got a long way to go before you win back my trust.  One free DVD rental for Christmas isn’t enough.

Best TheatreLes Mis and The Phantom of the Opera, obviously, even though I didn’t see either show live in an actual theatre.  I had some fun at San Francisco’s BATS Improv, especially seeing their Spontaneous Broadway.

Best Music:  I’ve spent most of my time listening to Josh Groban, Hadley Fraser, Sheytoons (Hadley Fraser and Ramin Karimloo), and Johnny Crawford.   Another favorite is the song Electricity from Billy Elliot (the stage musical).  Still, nothing beats Hadley Fraser singing Again.  The worst music this year?  Whatever was playing in the trailer for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.  Gack.

Best Music Video:  It really doesn’t count, but I can’t help it.  I love Josh Groban Sings Kanye West Tweets.

Best Entertainment News:  Following the news from London about West End performers from the Les Mis concert has entertained me at least as much as the concert itself.  It brought me new friendships with fellow fans from all over, and it kicked off the practice of having guest bloggers here at The Ugly Bug Ball.  If I’m blogging less about the West End, it’s only because things are pretty quiet right now.  2012 promises some guest reviews of Ramin Karimloo as Valjean.

Entertainer of The Year:  Last year was easy.  This year, it’s difficult to choose.  Johnny Crawford is great, but he came along late, at the end of November.  I blogged the most often about Hadley Fraser.  He provided me with a rich variety of entertainment, between the Les Mis and Phantom of the Opera performances, the online news and tweets, the music recordings and the YouTube videos.  Still, Ian Tracey beats Fraser out for sheer volume.  Tracey has been working steadily since he was a teenager, and even without an online presence (no tweets, fansites, or facebook page) he provided me with the most hours of entertainment.  I’m going to have to declare a tie between Hadley Fraser and Ian Tracey.  Congratulations, guys.  There’s no prize, but you get my sincere thanks.  I’m sorry I can’t promise you my exclusive loyalty, because there’s always going to be a Johnny-Come-Lately waiting in the wings!

Hadley Fraser and Ian Tracey

Hadley Fraser as Grantaire in the Les Mis concert; Ian Tracey as Adam Worth in Sanctuary

Next: What I’m excited about in 2012.  Happy New Year, everyone!

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The Phantom Unmasked!

A guest review from Scolytinae of Ramin Karimloo’s concert in Birmingham on Saturday, October 29, 2011.

A Night With The Phantom programWhat would it take to prise you away from your fireside on a damp and blustery October Saturday evening? For me, it was the prospect of spending “A Night with the Phantom” as the man himself, Ramin Karimloo, stepped out from behind the mask to perform as himself without the aid of character, makeup, costume, sets or an ensemble.

Birmingham’s Symphony Hall is an impressive venue, and its 4 levels were soon almost full.  Even the balconies behind the stage were occupied, prompting Ramin to ask if the audience all the way up there could hear him okay.

The evening got off to a good start with the excellent Manchester Concert Orchestra treating us to the lovely overture from South Pacific.  Then the star of the evening made his rapturously received entrance singing “Some Enchanted Evening.”  From here, the concert spanned a wide variety of songs and, as is the very nature of a “songs from the shows” format, some I enjoyed, some were fabulous, and some not so good.  A special mention must go to Capital Voices, whose 4 part harmony rendition of “Moon River” was truly lovely.

As the news that Ramin was going into Les Misérables in November had officially broken, there was a change to the published running order as “Stars” was abandoned in favour of “Bring Him Home.”  We were hushed in anticipation as the song began; after all, this is the signature song from the show and the one that every Valjean is judged on.  We have all heard Alfie Boe’s beautiful version, so the question was—how would Ramin do?  The answer—very well indeed.  He has just the right quality to his voice for this quiet, haunting ballad, and it was a lovely performance.  The only criticism—that final note went a little astray, but given the proper context and rehearsal time, I feel sure he will be a good Valjean and bring his own intensity to the role.  He admitted himself that he has a lot of work to do over the next 4 weeks to get ready, and we all wish him well.

The most popular part of the evening was, perhaps not surprisingly, the selection from The Phantom of the Opera.  I felt that this was where guest star Celia Graham really came into her own. The fact that she had been Christine opposite Ramin in both Phantom and Love Never Dies gave the performances a polish and confidence that some of the other numbers lacked, and her beautiful, clear voice filled the auditorium at the end of “The Phantom of the Opera.”

As a shameless plug for his first solo CD, due out in January, a couple of songs were included to showcase the album and to show a completely different side to Ramin.  These were enthusiastically received by the large audience.

Ramin closed the show with “’Til I Hear You Sing” from Love Never Dies, a beautiful ballad that he has most definitely made his own. A rapturous standing ovation brought him back on stage and, after checking with us that we were okay for time to get our trains and buses, he gave us an encore in the shape of the beautiful “Music of the Night.”

Overall it was a really enjoyable evening.  Things moved along at a brisk pace with guests breaking up the time on stage nicely and Ramin occasionally sharing an anecdote or story with the audience and, while raising the microphone stand after their appearances, quipping “no-one’s THAT short!”

The orchestra was fantastic, if a little too loud on occasion, meaning we sometimes lost the voices underneath the soaring music. Apparently this wasn’t a problem for my husband who, as a late addition to the proceedings, was sitting out at the side of the auditorium and not with me.  Obviously the amps must point straight out from the stage!

However, this certainly didn’t spoil the evening in any way—the man came out from behind the mask and did a great job.

Thank you, Scolytinae, for another great review!  (She reviewed Les Mis last month.)  We’re looking forward to your impressions of Ramin Karimloo in Les Misérables, when the time comes.

YouTube videos from the Birmingham concert:

Ramin Karimloo and Celia Graham

Music of the Night

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