Reviewer: Scott Matthewman
Seth Rudetsky’s Broadway @ Leicester Square series is fast becoming an essential staple of the West End calendar. Rudetsky, both a Broadway professional and one of musical theatre’s biggest fans, tends to know more about his interview subjects than they know about themselves, even when interviewing luminaries including Patti LuPone and Audra McDonald.
That knowledge, combined with one of the sharpest and quickest wits of any interviewee, means that Rudetsky is reason enough to attend one of his interview evenings. But most of the audience attend because of his guest: and for this weekend’s run of three interviews, that main draw was Phantom of the Operastar Ramin Karimloo.
The premise of Rudetsky’s interviews are that they are completely unscripted and improvised, so each of Saturday’s two interview sessions may well have turned out completely differently from Friday night in terms of content.
The performance portion of Friday’s evening kicked off with ‘Til I Hear You Sing from Love Never Dies, the ill-fated Phantom sequel. And the celebrated opera ghost looms large over Karimloo’s life: having grown up with the Michael Crawford-led cast recording, a school trip to the Toronto production fuelled his years-long obsession, during which the 16-year-old Karimloo made a bet with his friend that he would become the youngest actor to ever assume the half-mask – a wager he would later become able to collect.
Other numbers reflect some of Karimloo’s key career points, from a rendition of High Flying Adored with Emma Kingston, who played Eva to his Ché in the recent world tour of Evita, and an impromptu performance of I Am a Pirate King from Pirates of Penzance as a reminder of one of Karimloo’s first professional roles, in a Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre production of the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta.
Other numbers are included because Karimloo clearly loves performing them, from Show Boat’s Ol’ Man River to Hushabye Mountain from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Frequently joining Karimloo on stage for such numbers is Matthew Harvey, his costar in Murder Ballad with Karimloo and who also plays in The Broadgrass Band, Karimloo’s musicals-meets-country side project.
Interspersing the musical numbers, Rudetsky prompts Karimloo to recite some anecdotes from his life to varying degrees of success. Some, including stories of the actor’s short-lived career as a cruise ship dancer, are hilariously self-deprecating, if a little meandering: others, detailing technical bloopers from the special effects-laden Phantom stage, are more condensed and tight in ways that come with being told and retold.
Still more, though, are hesitant, half-finished, tailing off into nothingness until Rudetsky brings everything back on track. Even when an interviewee is hesitant, Rudetsky is able to keep the evening’s pace up, which is the mark of a consummate interview host.
The effect is an evening that ticks all the right boxes. And its conclusion, with Kingston returning onstage to play Fantine to Karimloo’s Valjean, and former Valjean Jeremy Secombe plucked from the crowd to make it a trio, is sublime. Fantine’s Death/Confrontation is initially played for laughs (“She’s about to die, but can still belt a top E!” notes Rudetsky), yet still allowing the scene’s emotional power to come through.
The effect is an evening that feels warmer, more intimate, than many onstage interviews. It is certainly a worthy addition to Rudetsky’s series, which one hopes will return for years to come.
Reviewed on 5 October 2018 | Image: Contributed