It was a cold, Monday January night in the unassuming market town of Ormskirk. What’s to do? Why, Broadway royalty dropping in on the local arts centre, of course. It still seems quite unbelievable that Edge Hill Arts Centre pulled off such a coup (they were rightfully delighted); something that only appeared in their listings mere days before the performance. Unexpectedly, Ramin Karimloo was in the house.
Karimloo, a Phantom and Les Mis heavyweight, happily shrugged off the ostentation of the musical theatre world to present his stripped-down take on the songs he loves, re-arranging them with an acoustic, countrified, bluegrass tinge. If this sounds like a concept that could be gimmicky or ironically hip at best, fear not; the audience was in for nothing short of a musical masterclass.
Opening with Until I Hear You Sing, the breakout number from Phantom of the Opera sequel Love Never Dies, the songs receiving the Broadgrass treatment spanned from Eidelweiss to original compositions, the old and the new happily slotting side by side. Despite a notable lack of anything from Phantom itself, the Ormskirk performance featured songs including High, Flying Adored (Evita), Ol’ Man River (Showboat), Could We Start Again Please (Jesus Christ Superstar) and Hushabye Mountain (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang).
Ably backed by a band as instinctively, deeply musical as Karimloo himself – right-hand man Matthew Harvey, double bassist Nick Pini and percussionist Jessie Linden – the tight, 70-minute set was over all too soon. It all made for an intimate evening full of emotional, and quite unforgettable spine-tingling moments. Weapons-grade Les Mis weepie Bring Him Home drew gasps and sobs from an utterly rapt audience; the pure joie de vivre of encore Oh What a Beautiful Mornin’ was truly something wonderful to behold.
It’s only the first few weeks of the year, but Ramin Karimloo set the bar extraordinarily high with this show, to such an extent it’s pretty hard to imagine what theatrical happenings over the next twelve months could top such an incredible evening. His connection with an audience is warm and genuine; he is simply a class act. No doubt this inspirational performance will be one of 2017’s best.
[Clip from the previous night’s performance at Curve Theatre Leicester]