Reviewer: Dave Cunningham
Musicals, for many people, are the prime example of the glitz and glamour of showbiz. It takes guts, therefore, for Broadway star and Olivier and Tony Award nominee Ramin Karimloo to strip away much of the pomp and lush orchestration from musical standards and perform them in more basic arrangements.
The musical style adopted by Karimloo for his Lead Me Home tour is described as ‘Broadgrass’. As the instruments involved are guitars, banjo, upright bass, fiddle and minimal percussion it actually sounds pretty much like basic folk or bluegrass. The effect is never less than interesting and sometimes startling. The use of a banjo somewhat diminishes the gravity of Bring Him Home. On the other hand, a rapid urgent pace transforms Oh, What a Beautiful Morning from the usual lazy drawl that opens the musical into a storming concert closer.
Songs are a vital part of the storytelling in musicals and moving them out of their context can reduce their impact. Karimloo’s version of High, Flying Adored sounds unfinished because, in Evita, it leads right into another song.
Karimloo could simply push the capacity and widely enthusiastic audience to exhaustion by playing one showstopper after another. Instead he alternates with his own compositions written in the West Coast singer-songwriter style. He enjoys an easy rapport with the audience; his enthusiastic prompting as to whether they agree the music of Chess was excellent drawing a dry somewhat negative response.
The spontaneous nature of the event is emphasised; we are told that the set list varies from night to night. Under these circumstances quality control becomes an issue. The encore slides towards self-indulgence with Tweets being read aloud and a punter invited from the audience to join the band. More significantly Karimloo seems to under-value his own songs at times treating them as filler between the standards. The best of his songs- the exuberant Wings-had been omitted from the set list and is performed on a whim. The casual approach is appealing but some decent material may suffer as a result.
The main attraction is simply Karimloo’s voice. Throughout the show there is the nagging feeling that he doesn’t really need musical backing a point proved during the encore as he steps forward and sings with an unplugged guitar and with scant amplification his voice filling the theatre beautifully.
Although vocal perfection may be vital in a musical this is a concert format and the singers from the folk and rock genres who are considered the best – like Van Morrison and Sandy Denny – are not technically perfect. It is the flaws of such singers that make them human so that they are capable of moving an audience to tears. Ramin Karimloo leaves you stunned by the beauty of his vocals and moved to admiration of his technique but not particularly engaged on an emotional level.
Reviewed on 17 January, 2017 | Image: Contributed