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
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!