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‘Murder Ballad’ - An Interview with Ramin Karimloo

28 October 2016 Stephanie Brandhuber

We chat with Canadian actor-singer Ramin Karimloo about his latest role playing bad boy Tom in the Off-Broadway hit ‘Murder Ballad’, the story of a love triangle gone wrong, that has come to London for a short stint at the Arts Theatre. Ramin has played multiple starring roles in both of the West End's longest running musicals - Jean Valjean, Enjolras and Marius in ‘Les Misérables’ and the Phantom and Raoul in ‘The Phantom of the Opera’. He was nominated for the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Musical for his role as the Phantom in ‘Love Never Dies’, and received a Tony nomination in 2014. Now, co-starring alongside Kerry Ellis, Victoria Hamilton-Barritt, and Norman Bowman, Ramin tells us more about the enthralling ‘Murder Ballad’ and about his upcoming gig with his broadgrass band.

London Calling: Can you tell us about the major themes in Murder Ballad? Besides murder of course!
 
Ramin Karimloo: Love, sex, betrayal, lust. It’s an adult-themed show and it’s stuff we can all relate to. It shows a darker side of love. The heart wants what the heart wants and it explores the complications of what can happen when love’s puzzle pieces perhaps aren’t fitting perfectly into place.
 
LC: What attracted you to joining the production?
 
RK: I had seen if off Broadway two years ago when I was in New York, and when I saw it it was coming to London and I knew that Sam Yates was attached to it as director, I was definitely drawn to it. I saw that the cast were people I’ve looked up to a lot over the years and I’d never actually gotten to properly work with, so it was a no-brainer. For such a short run, I knew it was going to be a special thing, and it’s been above and beyond that.
 
LC: Can you tell me a little bit your character Tom?
 
RK: Tom on the surface might seem like a bad boy, but to me he’s not. He’s a typical twenty-something when we meet him in his relationship with Kerry Ellis’ character Sarah, but they decide to call it quits on their relationship. When we meet them ten years later, Tom’s getting on with his life and Sarah calls him up out of the blue and is like “Hey, how you doing? How’s life?” And for Tom, that’s the love of his life. He was fine until she called. So he went a little crazy. He’s very passionate; lets put it that way.
 
LC: What’s been the most challenging aspect of this particular role?
 
RK: You know, if you’d asked me that before I went into this, it would have been the intimacy of the venue since it’s on such a small scale - it wasn’t something I was accustomed to apart from with my band. But none of that proved to be a problem. We all grew with it seamlessly and I was working with people I trust implicitly, so there wasn’t that sort of challenge that I had anticipated.
 
LC: It sounds like the chemistry between you and the rest of the cast is great.
 
RK: Yeah, I’ve never experienced this kind of chemistry before and I doubt I’ll ever experience it again - `not to do disservice to the bigger companies I’ve worked with though because you can’t really compare the experiences. When you’re working on bigger scale things, energies can be diluted or spread thin; but here there are only a few of us and we’re all pitching in together. It’s easier to be a family and to be there for each other. It’s been incredible.
 
LC: And what’s the music like in the show?
 
RK: It’s great, it’s really up my alley. There’s a sort of folky-rocky, indie Americana feel to it. We’ve adjusted some of it to the stage here and to suit our storytelling, but it’s great tunes. Sometimes we jam on the backstage with just a banjo and a guitar and the songs still translate well. I always think if a song can work with just a guitar, it’s a good tune. And these all work beautifully with just a guitar.
 
LC: You performed recently at the London Palladium with your broadgrass band, what was that like?
 
RK: It was insane. I remember as the curtain started going up, some of the band members started getting nervous, like holy geez, the London Palladium! And I was like, boys just treat it like how we would any other gig, and it was such a great atmosphere. We had a blast. But really, it doesn’t matter if there’s 20 people or 2000 in the audience, we’re still going to sing like we’re around the kitchen sink.
 
LC: And you’re always going to have a good time because that’s what you love doing.
 
RK: You know, I was talking about this over lunch - it’s all about the hang now. I want to do jobs where I enjoy the people in the room. There might be bigger jobs if you want to sacrifice a bit of your soul but I don’t want to negotiate that anymore. I’m closer to 40 than ever so I just want to have fun now. I want to be as creative as possible and push myself to be better than I was yesterday. I think you can only do that though when you’re amongst colleagues that you care about and whom you’re friends with.
 
LC: You’re returning with your band for a UK tour in 2017. What can audiences expect from you and the band this time?
 
RK: We’ve got a lot more new tunes coming and we’re experimenting with more theatre songs that have inspired the set list. We’ve got Matt who’s in Murder Ballad with me joining the band this month, so everyday we’re trying new songs, posting them on Youtube, and trying to gauge people’s reaction in order to add new songs to the set list. But that’s the thing too - we never do the same show twice. Every show has its own set list and is unique to its audience - we see how we’re feeling and how the energy is on the day.
 
LC: Well it sounds like the January tour is going to be sensational. Audiences are going to be in for a real treat.
 
RK: Yeah, we might even suit up for it this time.
 
LC: Even more for them to look forward to! And lastly, what’s one of your favourite London venues you’ve performed in?
 
RK: You know I’m going to have to say the London Palladium. Royal Albert Hall is also pretty special but I felt like it was a triumphant moment for my friends and me when we played the Palladium, so I’m going to have to go with that.
 
‘Murder Ballad’ is playing now until 3rd December 2016 at the Arts Theatre, 6-7 Great Newport St, London WC2H 7JB. Tickets from £25, book online.
 
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