Monday, May 21, 2012

Ramin Karimloo's New Solo CD

British theater star Ramin Karimloo is mesmerizing on a stage. In particular his turn as the Phantom in Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera is a show-stopping interpretation that brings to the role all the raw emotion and masculine swagger that original Phantom Michael Crawford didn't. You can see Karimloo's take on the role in the new Phantom 25th Anniversary DVD. It's a startling reinterpretation of the role, truly a star-making performance. So I was thrilled to see a new CD of solo performances. Thrilled...but cautious. Because, after all, how many theater stars have faltered when the time came to make their own CD? Unfortunately, all the presence Karimloo has on the stage is lost on this effort, "Human Heart." This is not to say that it's worthless. Not at all. There are some good performances, but nothing that'll light the world on fire. Most disappointingly, placed next to his work on stage, the work here just doesn't make it. It's like the difference between being and acting. On stage, ironically, he seems to be; on CD, he seems to be acting. And it should be the other way around, if at all. I wish I understood what happened. Wrong songs? Wrong producers? One great example is his solo take on "Till I Hear You Sing," from the Phantom sequel Love Never Dies. On the cast recording, his vocal soars, and he embodies the sorrow and passion expertly, as if it had been written for him. But here, singing the same song, at a moment when he could bring everything in his own soul to the performance, it falls flat. The same thing happens on "Music of the Night," Phantom's signature song. Not only is it overproduced, when stacked against the hundreds (maybe even thousands) of other solo recordings of the song, this one doesn't register in the least. Why include it here at all? Clearly, it was an attempt to make the song his now, since he's new Phantom. Yet the song seems old now, and while Karimloo might have wanted to make it vital and contemporary, it's anything but. While listening to this CD, and wanting so very much to like it, I kept thinking about Simon Cowell. When he was still a judge on American Idol, he used to make a real distinction between pop singers and Broadway singers. I never quite got it, believing a good singer could sing in both areas (witness Katharine McPhee, who's brilliant on her own CDs as well as on TV's Smash). For better or worse, I find Simon to be right, certainly as his thought pertains to Ramin Karimloo and this CD. The guy's brilliant on stage and in cast recordings. But his own CD withers in comparison.

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