"Who Am I?": Broadway's Newest Leading Man, Ramin Karimloo, On His Journey to Starring in Les MisÚrables

By Ruth Leon
25 Mar 2014

Karimloo in Les Misérables.
Photo by Matthew Murphy

At just 35, isn't Ramin a little young to play Jean Valjean? After all, he's been in prison for 19 years when we first meet him. "I thought so, too," Ramin admitted. "In fact, I turned it down when Cameron first offered it. I didn't think I could find a way into the character of Jean Valjean. I thought maybe I could play Javert instead. And then, at the 25th Anniversary concert [for] Phantom, Cameron came to my dressing room and said he'd come for 'his pound of flesh.'" Ramin wasn't convinced, but because Mackintosh couched it in terms of a favor, he knew he'd have to try. "I owe everything to him. He's allowed me to grow as an actor, he's been my mentor, and I have the greatest respect for him."

A respect, it seems, that is reciprocated. "I told him," said Mackintosh, "I want you to play it. You're not too young, you'll bring something fresh to Jean Valjean. And this is a fantastic way for you to make your Broadway debut."

Slowly Ramin came around to Jean Valjean. "I told Cameron I wanted to sing it for him, to find my voice for Valjean. And the more I thought about it the more I realized there was a lot I could relate to here, that this was a story I wanted to tell. He's a man who struggles with fate, it's about a man's heart and his journey. Now [that] I'm doing it, I'm really glad I'm on the younger side because I'm never off the stage, and it takes a lot of energy."



In its latest incarnation, pre-Broadway, Les Miz opened in Ramin's hometown, Toronto, and was an immediate hit. "My homecoming was also my debut. And although you try not to look for it, my validation." Critics and audiences were ecstatic about both Laurence Connor's production, which is decorated by Victor Hugo's own artwork, and about Ramin's Jean Valjean. In the audience on his opening night was his hero, Colm Wilkinson, who originated the role nearly 30 years earlier and whom he had seen ten times as the Phantom. Wilkinson said, of Ramin's performance, "When I see him play Jean Valjean onstage, I forget that I ever did it. He's absolutely amazing."

Cameron Mackintosh hadn't forgotten that Wilkinson had been the first Valjean and invited him to take part, with Ramin, in a special charity performance, playing the Bishop, the role he played in the recent movie. Together, they sang the anthem for which Wilkinson became famous—"Bring Him Home." For Ramin, "It was such a big moment when he handed me the candlesticks, such a big moment. Colm is a great man, on and off stage." Ramin is endearingly amazed at what has happened to him.

"I had waited for his autograph when I was [a boy] and now, I sat in my dressing room and there was Colm jamming on the guitar and there I was on the banjo, and I thought, 'How has my life turned out like this?' Everything I could have asked for as a kid, I've got."

Sir Cameron said that Ramin deserves all the success he's now enjoying, "It's his time now, the right person at the right time in the right show. It was meant to happen for him. He's as special a human being as he is a talent and that is why I've always loved him."

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Kyle Scatliffe and Ramin Karimloo
Photo by Matthew Murphy