Tag Archives: Ramin Karimloo

Beg, Borrow or Steal to See Les Misérables

I am very lucky to have friends who are willing to write reviews for me.  Last month I published Scolytinae’s guest review of the London production of Les Misérables.  Another friend saw the musical this week, and here are her impressions: 

Les Miserables logo Queen's Theatre, LondonLes Misérables – Queen’s Theatre, London

I first saw Les Mis on stage when I was 17 at a local theatre in Yorkshire and have loved it ever since, but it has taken me almost 15 years to see it again.  Despite living in London for several years and seeing many plays and musicals during that time, for some unfathomable reason I never went to see Les Mis.  Seeing the Matt Lucas “I Dreamed A Dream” documentary was the trigger that finally got me to go and see it in the West End.

Due to a mix up in booking the tickets, I first saw the show in August with Jonathan Williams as Jean Valjean and then again in September with Alfie Boe in the lead role.  Since then, I have become slightly addicted to the Les Mis booking website and can now look forward to a further two visits this year alone.  I’m hoping for some kind of loyalty discount from Cameron Mackintosh, especially as Ramin Karimloo is joining the cast to take over from Alfie Boe in November.

Thursday night was my third visit.  Previously, I had seats in the dress circle and at the back of the stalls, but this time we had front row seats in the stalls at the right hand side.  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but we certainly were close to the stage and to the orchestra—perhaps too close to the orchestra, as we could hear the brass section chatting at times.  On the plus side, my eye did keep being drawn to the conductor and it was fascinating to see him directing the cast as well as the orchestra—I got a real insight into how much work must go into getting the timing right.

Being so close to the stage meant we could see every facial expression of the cast and that did really add an extra element, particularly in all the Valjean/Javert double handers.  However, on the down side, it did mean the cast could make eye contact with us, which was slightly disconcerting.  I didn’t quite know where to look when three of the factory workers sang “At the End of the Day” while staring directly into my eyes.  Goodness knows what I would have done if Alfie or Hadley had made eye contact……

Alfie Boe and Hadley Fraser, Les Miserables

Alfie Boe and Hadley Fraser

The heart of the show is undoubtedly Alfie Boe’s Jean Valjean playing against Hadley Fraser’s feral Javert, but this visit I appreciated what an ensemble piece it is, with Eponine, Javert, Marius and Fantine having strong songs of their own.  This company is very talented, and I warmed to Caroline Sheen’s Fantine and Lisa-Anne Wood’s portrayal of Cosette much more than previously.  Due to the wonders of twitter, I could pick out members of the ensemble, and particular praise should go to Fra Fee and James Charlton—both have amazing voices.

Alfie Boe is sublime as Valjean, but his performance did seem the same as the first time I saw him.  There’s nothing I can put my finger on; it may just be that in contrast to all the other major characters, he has not developed the role any further, and there’s certainly no need.  Perhaps I’m getting too used to hearing his voice and don’t appreciate him fully.  My friend was certainly blown away by the power and control of his singing.

 

Scott Garnham as Enjolras

Scott Garnham (not wearing Enjolras wig!)

Scott Garnham and Adam Linstead deserve special mention.  Scott played Enjolras, as Liam Tamne was away.  Leaving aside the fact that the hair & make-up team managed to make a good-looking man unattractive, there was little to fault in his portrayal of Enjolras, and he was more believable in the role than Liam.  I would love to see what he would do with the role on a more permanent basis.  Adam Linstead’s Grantaire wins the “most improved” award.  He has really grown into this role and added a lot to it since I saw him last.  He starts as a laid-back bon viveur with the complexities of the character coming out in the emotional barricade scenes.

I was intrigued to see how Cameron Blakely would take on Thénardier—no mean feat to step into Matt Lucas’ shoes.  He has kept the role pretty similar and in the first half was easily a match to Matt—his “Master of The House” was superb.  However, he didn’t have the necessary menace in the sewer scenes, and the comedy was lacking a bit in the wedding scene.  It is early days though, so I will be interested to see how he develops the role.

Hadley Fraser as Javert, Les Miserables, London, Queen's Theatre

Hadley Fraser as Javert

I have tried to be as objective as I can, but in my eyes, Hadley Fraser can do no wrong.   I’ve yet to see anything less than stunning performances in all the YouTube clips, and I was also lucky enough to be at the Phantom 25th Anniversary concert a few weeks ago.  I read a recent interview with Hadley where he said he was trying to bring out the animalistic side of Javert.  I have to say, he has really developed this side of the character since my last visit.  There were times where he really seemed only half-human and more like a feral dog, albeit one with a lot of pent-up anger and confusion.  He was quite terrifying to watch from the front row, and I was glad he had a firm grasp of the truncheon, as I would not have wanted that flung across my face.

All in all, it was a fantastic evening.  If you like Les Mis or musical theatre in general, this cast is an absolute must-see.  I am excited about the prospect of Ramin Karimloo joining.  I can’t imagine him as Jean Valjean, but for me that only adds to the anticipation.

I’m not really a fan of hanging around the stage door, but I still managed to act like a crazy fan girl.  While waiting for a taxi on the street afterwards, I spotted Hadley walking past us, and I squealed “Oh, there’s Hadley!” to my friend.  He looked at me a bit oddly, so I think he heard—oh, the embarrassment….  But then he sloped off into the night, looking very slight and laid-back—quite a difference to the Javert who had been towering over us so menacingly half an hour before.

Thank you, helsbrownie!   You’re a star for taking the time to write this for us.

Yes, Ramin Karimloo will be replacing Alfie Boe as Valjean at the end of November, performing six times a week from November 29, 2011, through March 3, 2012.  Karimloo and Fraser, together again!

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POTO25: Curtain Call and Encores

 

Curtain call with Hadley Fraser, Ramin Karimloo and Sierra Boggess
Curtain call with Hadley Fraser, Ramin Karimloo and Sierra Boggess
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh
John Owen-Jones, Sarah Brightman, Colm Wilkinson and Peter Jöback
John Owen-Jones, Sarah Brightman, Colm Wilkinson and Peter Jöback
Ramin Karimloo, Sarah Brightman, Colm Wilkinson and Peter Jöback
Ramin Karimloo, Sarah Brightman, Colm Wilkinson and Peter Jöback
Colm Wilkinson and Peter Jöback
Colm Wilkinson and Peter Jöback
Ramin Karimloo, Colm Wilkinson and Peter Jöback
Ramin Karimloo, Colm Wilkinson and Peter Jöback
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Michael Crawford
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Michael Crawford
Michael Crawford and Ramin Karimloo shake hands
Michael Crawford and Ramin Karimloo shake hands
Crawford, Boggess, Karimloo, Warlow, Wilkinson, & Joback
Crawford, Boggess, Karimloo, Warlow, Wilkinson, & Jöback

Confetti finale

These are from the finale at the Royal Albert Hall, celebrating 25 years of The Phantom of the Opera.

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The Phantom of the Opera 25th Anniversary

Wow, am I exhausted!  I got up at 7am this morning, and it’s been POTO25 ever since.  Here in San Francisco, the simulcast of The Phantom of the Opera Live from the Royal Albert Hall began at 11am.  We drove down early, ate breakfast nearby, and then got to the cinema for choice seats.  I’m sure nobody wants to hear what I had for breakfast, so I’ll cut right to the good stuff.  Our cinema had a 255 seat capacity (trust me, I looked) and there were probably about 60 of us in attendance.

Overall, the quality of the broadcast was excellent.  There were probably four cameras doing the coverage, and the only one I didn’t like was the one at stage level, literally along the footlights.  Every time they switched over to that camera, it made me a little seasick.  This was due to the angle and the lens distortion.  The set was gorgeous, with the orchestra above the main platform and sometimes covered by a scrim.  There were four panels at the back of the main stage that had different backdrops projected.  Now, I don’t know the proper terminology for this, but the little colored light circles making up these projections didn’t react very well to certain camera angles and movements.  It was very hard on the eye, and I hope it’s something they can fix digitally for the DVD release.  I imagine it was fine for the live audience at the Royal Albert Hall.  My favorite use of these panels was during Christine’s bows after her first big solo.  She turned her back to the actual audience, and the panels were used like mirrors to reflect the audience applauding.  Then the front stage became backstage at the opera house.

The big surprise and delight for me was Sierra Boggess.  I’ve never seen her perform before, and she was truly lovely.  The camera adores her, and she performed beautifully.  I can’t actually be objective about Ramin Karimloo (The Phantom) and Hadley Fraser (Raoul) because I’m such a big fan of both of them already.  Sadly, makeup for the stage isn’t subtle enough for filmed closeups, and Karimloo’s prosthetics, mask, and two microphones (forehead and cheek) were, well, not subtle.  In spite of this, Karimloo broke my heart at the end when he let Christine go.  Fraser cleaned up nicely as Raoul, and I thought he struck the right balance between gentle lover and arrogant aristocrat.  I thought everybody did a great job, and I enjoyed finding familiar faces in the ensemble from the Les Misérables 25th Anniversary Concert last year.

The finale was pretty spectacular, and these folks came out: Andrew Lloyd Webber, Cameron Mackintosh, the surviving creative team from the original production, the creative team for the RAH production,  the original London cast including Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman, and four other Phantom actors.  These were Colm Wilkinson, John Owen-Jones, Anthony Warlow and Peter Jöback.  Sarah Brightman sang with the four phantoms with Ramin Karimloo joining them at the end.  It’s a shame that the Phantom makeup takes too long to take off, because it would have been great to see Karimloo’s real face for the finale.  Andrew Lloyd Webber made a short speech, and he was pretty cute when he asked the audience to sit down in case he went on too long.  After the encores, during the final bows, sparklers went off around the Hall while confetti and streamers dropped from above.  I was sorry to see it end, but at least we’ll have the DVD release.  There was a slide advertising the DVD before the simulcast began, but it didn’t give a US release date, just “coming soon.”

One of the real pleasures of the day was chatting with other members of the audience.  One nice woman brought her young son who enjoys performing in musicals.  Who knows, one day we may be seeing him as the Phantom!  He was happy to pose for a photograph with the cinema poster.

The Next Phantom?

The Next Phantom? A young moviegoer in San Bruno

Click to see larger versions of these images that follow: Continue reading

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Happy Birthday, Ramin Karimloo

To celebrate Ramin Karimloo’s birthday today, some student revolutionaries throw a party for him.  Hadley Fraser collapses in a drunken stupor, but he still manages to raise his bottle. 

 (Okay, so this is very silly, but it was a heck of a lot of fun to make!)

Ramin's Les Miserables Birthday Party
A Les Mis Party: Do You Hear The People Sing Happy Birthday? (click to see larger)

 Best birthday wishes, Mr. Karimloo!

(Sorry, Mr. Fraser.)

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Hadley Fraser and Some Random Stuff

Rumors are spreading that West End performer (and Ugly Bug Ball favorite) Hadley Fraser will play Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall, joining his good friend Ramin Karimloo as the Phantom.  There has been no official confirmation.  Fraser seems to be avoiding twitter, and Karimloo is teasing his followers without revealing anything.  Fraser has been hinting at a big announcement coming up, so perhaps this is what he meant.  Where did the rumor begin?  I don’t know, but Amazon’s UK site lists Fraser as Raoul on the pre-order page for the CD.  Maybe this is an error, hardly the first one at Amazon, but I hope it’s not.  I’m very impatient to know either way, because the tickets at my local cinema go on sale in a day or two.  If Fraser plays Raoul, I will definitely go to the live broadcast, since I would pay to see this guy read (or sing) the phone book.

Fraser is talented and funny, and I’ve enjoyed following his career this year.  It’s given me plenty to blog about.   Wordpress gives me really detailed stats on my visitors, and I have Fraser to thank for much of my traffic.   Sometimes it feels kind of voyeuristic to know exactly what folks have typed into a search engine when they click over to my blog.   It gets pretty bizarre!   Because I have “ugly” in my blog title, people will land here because they are using the search term “ugly” with another name or word.   When I blogged about the royal wedding, I had a lot of visitors who were searching for ugly hats and ugly princesses.  Nobody has searched for “Hadley Fraser ugly” (I’d punch them if they did), but it’s obvious that a lot of people want to know more about his personal life and his relationship status.  Well, that information isn’t here, since I prefer to discuss his work, but this interview will be of interest.

I like to think that blogging about performers like Fraser and Karimloo benefit their careers in some small way.  It may be boasting, but some of the news and links here are more current than on Fraser’s own website.  He’s got a great site, but I suspect he’s too busy to update it often.  Anyway, I’m happy to help spread the word about my favorites.  Do casting directors and producers take note when a performer they’re considering for a role has thousands of followers on twitter and facebook, not to mention blogs devoted to their every move?  Since I blog mostly for my own enjoyment, it doesn’t make a big difference to me personally, but I’d still love to know.

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I was at an improv show recently where the audience was asked, what’s your personal motto?  I have a few.  One is “Sit when you can, stand when you must.”  This comes from years of working on my feet.  Another one is “I get there in the end.”  This one is really just a rationalization for how much I procrastinate, especially when it comes to doing laundry.  Here is the motto I have the most difficulty following: “You’re more likely to find happiness in the center of your own life than around the edges of somebody else.”

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I’ve been re-watching due South, one of my favorite series, and I’m sure a longer post about the show is coming soon.  I noticed in the pilot that a stuntman driving a dog sled was a poor match for lead actor Paul Gross.  It made me think about dangerous stunts and the many times I’ve read or heard “the actors do most of their own stunts.”  I have nothing against using stuntmen.  In fact, I’m all for them.  I never want an actor or anybody else to take terrible risks just for my entertainment.  The safety of those involved is the best reason for using for digital special effects.

Speaking of digital effects, I have started to hate how artificially heightened everything looks in films lately.  Even the grass and trees look unreal in I Am Number Four.   When I watched Unstoppable on DVD, the yellow and red trains were so intensely colored, it was like a cartoon.  It was jarring in an otherwise gritty, realistic movie based on a true incident.

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The websites that I visit frequently are really getting annoying.  IMDb has so many ads and unnecessary videos to load, I can’t get quickly to the pages I need.  Zap2it has so many pop-ups, videos and ads, I feel dread in the pit of my stomach when I visit the site.  My earthlink email was freezing up every time a sidebar ad refreshed, so now I’m actually paying an extra dollar a month to NOT SEE ads in my inbox.  How insane is that?

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Les Mis Casting & Phantom Anniversary News

It was just announced officially that Russell Crowe will be playing Javert in the movie version of Les Misérables.  In a recent post, I discussed Hugh Jackman’s suitability for Valjean and the rumors of Paul Bettany being cast as Javert.  I had grown quite used to the idea of Bettany, but now I have to make peace with Russell Crowe in the role. 

It’s difficult to discuss Russell Crowe while sticking to my policy of avoiding celebrity gossip.   There was a time when I’d hear his name and think of his performances in movies like The Sum of Us and LA Confidential.  He was on top of the world with Gladiator.  Then reports in the press of temperamental bad behavior became better known than his film projects.  I don’t know how much his offscreen reputation has affected his box office draw, but I’m sure there are people in Hollywood who spend their time calculating this stuff. 

I can’t help wondering if the producers of the Les Misérables consulted any of these experts when they cast Crowe in their movie.  Was Crowe chosen for his acting ability, his singing ability, his box office draw?  Of course, it’s got to be a combination of these things, but it’s his singing that is the big question for most Les Mis fans.  Crowe has performed in various rock bands over the years, the best known being 30 Odd Foot of Grunts.  (Here’s a sample of his singing.)  The name of the band hardly inspires confidence in his ability to sing as Javert.  I’ve heard that Crowe is getting vocal coaching to prepare himself for the different style of singing needed for a musical.  It’s also clear from reports that he is passionate about taking on the role, after auditioning more than once to get the part.  Certainly his intensity will suit the character of Javert, a dogged police inspector whose rigid beliefs in an Old Testament-style sense of justice drive him to relentlessly pursue parolee Valjean.  

I said it before about Jackman, but I’ll say it again with even more emphasis for Crowe.  The producers of Les Mis should release a couple of songs from the musical well before the movie opens, to alleviate the fears of fans and to build buzz for the movie.  This is assuming the songs are good enough to put our fears to rest!   Speaking of the movie’s opening, a date has already been chosen: December 7, 2012.  

Also announced this week:  The Phantom of The Opera‘s 25th anniversary is being celebrated next month with a weekend of special performances at the Royal Albert Hall.   This is a fully staged musical, unlike the Les Mis anniversary concerts last year.  This week, it was announced that one of the performances will be broadcast live to 500 cinemas around North America on October 2nd.  Here’s the link to the cinemas.  The tickets are about $22, which may vary depending on location. 

Since I live on the west coast, the broadcast begins at 11am, which is awfully early for me.  There are no cinemas in San Francisco participating, so my nearest location is Daly City.  Now, SF is only seven miles by seven miles, and the Daly City cinema is about 8 miles from my home.  This translates into a 20 minute drive (except I don’t drive!) or an hour by bus and BART.  As I get swept up in the excitement of witnessing this special event, I have to keep reminding myself that I’m not really a Phantom fan.  I love Ramin Karimloo, who’s performing as the Phantom, but the musical itself?  Not so much.  I also have to keep telling myself that if I don’t go, I will hate missing out.

If I end up skipping the live broadcast, I can always rent or buy the DVD.  It’s definitely going to be released on DVD, and it’s already available to pre-order on several UK sites.  Here’s some information from the official POTO website.  The info on the site is rather badly worded, so be warned.  It gives a date for the DVD release, November 14th, but it doesn’t specify if this includes North America.  I suspect the US release date is later.  I will keep updating this information as I find it.

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Farewell to Love Never Dies

Today is the last day of Love Never Dies in London.  This sequel to The Phantom of the Opera has had a bumpy ride since it opened in March 2010.   I’ve never seen the musical, and before last spring I wasn’t even aware of it, but my passion for Les Misérables brought lead actor Ramin Karimloo to my attention.  He played Enjolras in the 25th anniversary concert, and since seeing the US television broadcast of the concert, I have been following him on twitter and his facebook page. 

Because I haven’t seen Love Never Dies, I’m somewhat removed from the emotions surrounding today’s closing.   That’s not to say I’m completely unfamiliar with the musical.  I’ve watched official clips on YouTube, visited the official website, and a very generous friend sent me the cast recording.   These are not substitutes for sitting in the Adelphi Theatre and experiencing the actual musical.  I know that, and that makes me sad.   What I will miss after today, though, is following the news about Love Never Dies from Karimloo and his fans.  For the last six months, tracking this drama has been surprisingly interesting.  First Karimloo was leaving the cast after a year as The Phantom, then he stayed on.  Then he was leaving in September.  Then the news leaked to the press, before the cast was told, that the show itself would be closing today.  The emotions surrounding this closing have covered all the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and for some, acceptance.

A new production of Love Never Dies opened this summer in Melbourne, and a touring production is planned, so the show goes on.  The Melbourne production is reportedly being filmed for a DVD release, and fans have been vocal about wanting a recording of the London production.  I can’t say I’m too optimistic about that happening.  I have no doubt that some type of recording has been made, but that doesn’t mean it will ever be released to the public.   I have more optimism about the upcoming Phantom of the Opera 25th anniversary concert, also starring Ramin Karimloo.   I’m also feeling optimistic about Karimloo performing in other roles in the future where we can see his real face.  It’s a nice face, and I’d like to see more of it.

So, farewell, Love Never Dies.  My best to all the cast, and to the faithful fans who waited at the stage door while Karimloo got out of his Phantom makeup, who tweeted to pass the time, and who posted their stage door photos and shared their stories.  It’s been awfully good fun.

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