A 12-year old goes on a school trip to a Toronto theatre. He doesn't want to go, but it's an afternoon off from lessons and for this small boy, who'd much rather be playing ice hockey than doing math problems, it turns out to be the single most important experience of his life.
"It was the first time in my life when I felt truly moved by something. I connected with it immediately. I thought, I'd like to do that.'"
He went back to see the show ten times, waited at the stage door to get an autograph from the star, and made a bet with his friend that he would play that role and, furthermore, that he would be the youngest ever to do so. The show was The Phantom of the Opera, the star was Colm Wilkinson, the 12-year-old boy was Ramin Karimloo, star of the new Broadway production of the world's most successful musical, Les Misérables. Sure enough, he did become the youngest ever, taking on the role of Phantom just a month before his 29th birthday.
Ramin is the son of Iranian parents who left Tehran for political reasons when he was a few months old and was always expected to do well. "An Iranian father always wants you to do better than he has done," he said. So Ramin applied himself to his chosen profession as though it were an academic discipline, going to the library and reading all the plays and acting manuals he could find. "I didn't have any formal training. Money was tight and I didn't want to create more debt, so I went and read Stanislavski. I didn't differentiate between plays and musicals."
Like most young Canadians, he would have preferred to be a professional hockey player, but that wasn't in the stars and, fortunately, he knew it early because he noticed that, "hockey players grew bigger, and I didn't."
Enter one of the world's most successful producers, Sir Cameron Mackintosh, "He was a boy. So young, maybe 20. He came and auditioned for me and I just knew. He had it. He always had it. That striking voice and those wonderful looks. He started as [a] cover for Marius in Les Misérables, and he's worked for me almost ever since." Except, of course, for his starring role in Andrew Lloyd Webber's sequel to The Phantom of the Opera, Love Never Dies. Through an apprenticeship that took in the supporting roles in Les Misérables and Phantom, Ramin learned his craft. Mackintosh said he owes his tremendous development as an actor to director Laurence Connor, who directs the new version of Les Miz, alongside James Powell, which first opened in Toronto and is now playing at Broadway's Imperial Theatre. "He always had the voice and the looks. Now he's a fine actor as well."
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