15th January 2017
Following his success in shows as diverse as Les Miserables, Love Never Dies, and Murder Ballad, Ramin Karimloo tours his passion project, a unique genre of music he dubs ‘broadgrass’ – show tunes with a bluegrass flavour – before returning to the bright lights of Broadway to star in the premiere of the long-awaited stage adaptation of Anastasia. The evening began with singer/songwriter Rob Richings’ easy going brand of folk-pop, a gentle yet endearing warm up before the headline act. The band themselves, including Jessie Linden (percussion/vocals), Matthew Harvey (guitar/keyboard/vocals), Nick Pini (bass/vocals) and Georgina Leach (violin), have all the musical chemistry expected of bluegrass and country acts; a tremendous success considering the hairpin tightness of those harmonies.
The set included a mix of original songs, such as fan favourite ‘Broken’, written with Karimloo’s Sheytoons collaborator, Hadley Fraser, to covers ranging from folk (‘Wild World’) to musical theatre classics (‘Oh What A Beautiful Mornin’’, ‘Ol’ Man River’, ‘Being Alive’, ‘High Flying Adored’). The five piece band were evidently having a ball; Karimloo’s banter with guitarist (incidentally, also his understudy for Murder Ballad) Matt and ad-libs referring to the incongruity of the Rydell High School gymnasium set upon which they played (Curve’s production of Grease continues to play til 21st January) provided some gentle humour between songs.
Gifted with natural charm Karimloo’s anecdotes complemented the set list and gave us small insights into a life in the theatre. Regarding the inspiration behind his ‘broadgrass’ venture, Karimloo revealed that he would while away the hours spent in make-up for Love Never Dies learning to play the banjo and writing his own music. His skill as a musician and song-writer is impressive, but the undeniable show-stealer is that voice which has made him a star and one of the most in-demand leading men in the West End and Broadway. Rich, soaring, with a consistency of power throughout his vast range, Karimloo effortlessly glides from crystalline falsetto to treacly bass tones, breathing an effervescent lustre into the most well-known of melodies. The fresh, stripped back ‘broadgrass’ arrangements are all lilting guitars, sighing fiddles, and whimsical harmonies, which only heighten the lyrical story-telling clout of the original versions. I discovered songs I didn’t know – their rendition of ‘Sara’ from Murder Ballad, makes me regret having not seen the recent West End production – and new ways of seeing seemingly ubiquitous MT songs – who’d have thought ‘Bring Him Home’ could work so well on the banjo!
A final treat for fans, the encore of ‘Til I Hear You Sing’ brought the evening to a magnificent close – I left the theatre with Karimloo’s voice still reverberating in my ears! Having lovingly created their own distinct sound, a joy for music and collaboration in all its forms shines through the band’s performance. I recommend the Lead Me Home tour for anyone with a love of country or musical theatre; a thoroughly enjoyable evening of passionate music and informal chat, Karimloo and his band are masters of their craft.
For all UK tour dates and venues visit https://www.raminkarimloo.com/live