From Broadway to Bluegrass

Sure, the Tony Award nomination was nice. And certainly, the legions of Broadway fans who have applauded his celebrated roles as the lead in “Les Miserables” and “Phantom of the Opera” are wonderful.

But Ramin Karimloo loves the concert stage — and especially the smaller ones shared with band members whom he refers to simply as his buddies.

“Some people have approached us afterward and said it felt like we were sitting in their house, just having a good time with them,” Karimloo said, speaking by cellphone from New York City. “And that’s exactly what we want.

“And whether we’re singing for 300 people or 3,000, we want every person to feel we are singing right to them.”

Karimloo, 37, will bring a keyboard and banjo player along with him — on guitar — for his Thursday 90-minute acoustic set “From Broadway to Bluegrass” that’s part of the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic’s Cabaret at The Commons series.

Organizers expect Karimloo’s show to be the largest since native Mary Claire King’s 400-seat sellout 13 months ago, said Katelyn Phillips, the Philharmonic’s marketing director. Thursday’s show will be the biggest seller of this season, with the 300 tickets already sold, exceeding the 250 people who saw jazz singer and pianist Spencer Day on Jan. 28.

Karimloo ticket buyers are coming from California, Nevada, Texas, Pennsylvania and one even from Brazil for the performance, Phillips said.

“His voice and versatility is the reason people travel to see him,” she said.

Even with pipes that shifts easily from the melodic Broadway smash, “Music of the Night,” to the country-gospel sound of “Just A Closer Walk With Thee,” he still struggles to believe that listeners will come from such great distances for concerts.

“I have said to some, ‘You didn’t come all that way just for this, did you?” he said.

Traveling man

Karimloo is a traveler himself.He spoke for this interview while in a cab after a brief respite in the United Kingdom just after finishing a run as the lead in “Prince of Broadway” in Japan.“This actually feels quite a bit like rest anytime I’m not doing eight (stage) shows per week,” he said.

He’s excited for fans to hear the now-subdued Les Mis anthem “Bring Him Home” on banjo and guitar in this presentation.

“It’s more intimate,” he said.

He rarely sees his Los Angeles home enough, with his wife Mandy and his two elementary school-aged sons, both of whom decided for themselves to begin music lessons amid their soccer enthusiasm.

“I’ve told them that if they’re going to take it seriously, then they have to practice,” Karimloo said. “And when I’m on the road, they send me (video) clips, and I watch, and I can tell they’re getting better.”

Cruise crooner

The Iranian-born Karimloo himself grew up in Canada listening to country, bluegrass and rock with no familiarity with Broadway. He also never had any voice training until he began singing on cruise ships.“I just want to be able to sing and support my family,” he said. “I want to sing songs that tell stories.”He has worked with artists such as Yusuf Islam, formerly 1970s pop sensation Cat Stevens, and was touched to meet his family.

“He is really very humble,” he said of the man who once saw music’s fame as a hindrance to his faith.

Islam’s 1970 tune “On the Road to Find Out” serves as the partial title cut of one of Karimloo’s three discs. And though Islam has been lauded as one of the distinctive voices in pop, Karimloo’s version — sometimes blended with Islam’s “Wide World” — more than does the song justice.

He has enough original and cover material for another disc but no time right now to record. And he’s angling for prime film and TV roles (he loves the series “Fargo”). He figures that will come in time.

“That’s why,” he said, “I have a great manager.”

Going off Broadway

Who: Broadway performer and Tony Award nominee Ramin Karimloo, who has been the lead in shows such as “Les Miserables,” “Phantom of the Opera” and others, in concert at the Cabaret at The Commons series.

When: 7:30 Thursday.

Where: The Commons, 300 Washington St., Columbus.

Tickets: $15 and $30 (other level sold out), available at 812-376-2638 or the cip.org.

Food and drink: Available for purchase.

Information: 812-376-2638 or thecip.org.

Cabarets remaining
  • April 7: Annaleigh Ashford, star of the Tony-nominated “Kinky Boots.” Performing everything from pop to Broadway to disco.
  • May 5: Marin Mazzie, critically acclaimed actress and singer from Broadway and concert halls worldwide.
Author photo
Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.