RAMIN KARIMLOO SINGS THEM AS THEY WROTE THEM
Do you know Karimloo’s portmanteau?
Need an explanation of that sentence? Karimloo refers to Ramin Karimloo whom Broadway came to know in 2014. His portrayal of Jean Valjean in the second Broadway revival of LES MISERABLES garnered him a Tony nomination and a Theatre World Award.
As for “portmanteau,” our online dictionary tells us that it’s “a word blending the sounds and combining the meanings of two others.” Think of “motel” — an amalgam of “motor” and “hotel.”
The portmanteau that Karimloo has coined is “Broadgrass” – meaning “Broadway” and “Bluegrass.” That fusion is the style of singing and instrumentation he most enjoys – which you can hear on his just-released album RAMIN KARIMLOO: FROM NOW ON.
The “Broadway” is certainly represented in seven of the dozen songs – eight if you count “Mary Jane” by Alanis Morissette and Glen Ballard. That 1995 hit will qualify starting Nov. 3 when it’s performed at the Broadhurst Theatre in JAGGED LITTLE PILL.
You might expect that the other seven would include a selection or two from LES MISERABLES, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, ANASTASIA or LOVE NEVER DIES, given that Karimloo has played principal roles in all of them. No – he’s been there, done that. Karimloo apparently would rather try his hand – um, voice – on songs he hasn’t sung hundreds of times.
Once you see the titles of the seven, you may well assume that Karimloo will sing different lyrics. After all, HAMILTON’S “You’ll Be Back” is specific to events circa 1776. King George III smugly insists that revolutionaries who attempt to break away from England will eventually be sorry (and, if he has his way, dead, too).
So won’t Karimloo sing new lyrics – perhaps ones that cast him as a spurned lover who believes that the person who dumped him will “be back” after foolishly casting him aside? Over the years, that’s what pop renditions of Broadway songs have often done with show-specific lyrics.
No. Karimloo has not only retained Lin-Manuel Miranda’s delicious bubble-gum melody but also every word that refers to events of 243 years ago. Karimloo replicates the supercilious monarch by even rolling his “r’s” on “arrrrangement” and “rrrremind” in pretentious British fashion.
Perhaps Karimloo assumes that most if not all of his audience will already know the song from the show or cast album and like it just the way it is. So if you’ve memorized “You’ll Be Back” (and which of us hasn’t?) and want to sing along with Ramin, you won’t be derailed by a new and “improved” lyric.
Maybe Karimloo is subtly telling us that he’d like to play King George III one of these days. And wouldn’t the musical or the inevitable film version of HAMILTON love to have him?
This decision to retain all original lyrics even extends to “What You Own” from RENT. The song’s most famous line is “We’re living in America at the end of the millennium.” Well, that millennium has been history for almost two decades, so the Jonathan Larson estate probably wouldn’t have called its lawyers if Karimloo had changed the line to “We’re living in America at the START of the millennium.”
But here it is, just as Larson wrote it and just as Pastor, Mark Cohen, Tom Collins, Benjamin Coffin III and Roger Davis sang it for more than twelve years on Broadway (and fourteen months more off-Broadway).
Jason Robert Brown’s “It All Fades Away,” from THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY has Robert sing that Francesca will always stay in his mind while the many wonders of the world that he’s seen won’t have her staying power. Such a sentiment has been the basis of many a pop hit, but the singer usually has more to go on than “four days in your arms” which is all Robert has had – and all Karimloo cares to mention, too.
Male singers haven’t gravitated to “I Will Always Love You.” For the most part, they’ve left it to Whitney Houston and Dolly Parton (the song’s co-writer). Karimloo won’t let such history stand in his way, and instead does this song from the popular film.
(And that film, by the way, doesn’t necessarily mean the 1992 THE BODYGUARD which sported Houston’s rendition. Ten years earlier Parton sang it in THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS — although, to be fair, she wrote it as a pop song some years before that musical ever got started.)
The bluegrass in “Broadgrass” comes in partly through the arrangements. More than a dozen instruments are on board, including a banjo and guitars both acoustic and electric. Eleven back-up singers add to the flavor. This is most apparent in THE GREATEST SHOWMAN’S “From Now On,” from which the album gets its title.
Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the young songwriters who are merely an Emmy away from an EGOT, wrote that one. But Karimloo not only renders to Hollywood the things that are Pasek and Paul’s Hollywood; he renders to Broadway the things that are Pasek and Paul’s Broadway: “Waving through a Window” from DEAR EVAN HANSEN.
Although Karimloo is a lyric baritone who can ease himself into tenor territory, he’s very much at home with recent Broadway pop: “Anthem” (CHESS), “Let It Go” (FROZEN), “Wicked Little Town” (HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH) and “Is This the World We Created?” (a Queen song that has been inserted into WE WILL ROCK YOU every now and then).
So, with the release of this album, August is an august month for Ramin Karimloo – not that the previous one was so bad. On July seventh, he was part of the bill for Barbra Streisand’s concert in London’s Hyde Park.
No wonder Karimloo was attracted to that song from Brown’s THE LAST FIVE YEARS – the one that says “I got a singular impression things are moving too fast.”
For he didn’t merely open for Streisand; he duetted with her, as they did a song he’d sung eight times a week at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London for twenty-six months: “The Music of the Night.”
Now, thanks to RAMIN KARIMLOO: FROM NOW ON, you can hear him sing the music all night and day.
Peter Filichia also writes a column each Monday at www.broadwayselect.com and each Friday at www.mtishows.com. He can be heard most weeks of the year on www.broadwayradio.com.