Two internationally renowned music stars – Ramin Karimloo and Michael K. Lee – gather on one stage for a three-day concert in Korea, a rare event especially amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The upcoming “Michael Lee & Ramin Karimloo 2021 Concert”, to be held on August 27 at the Goyang Aram Nuri Arts Center in Gyeonggi, will be Lee’s first show in Korea as a producer. This is happening because Lee “creates his own destiny,” Karimloo said.
Lee made her Broadway debut and Korean debut with “Miss Saigon” in 1995 and 2006, respectively. Since then he has appeared on numerous hit shows, as well as as a judge in a number of musical television shows such as Singer “and” Music Star “.
Karimloo, who is primarily active in the West End, is recognized for his role as the ghost in the 25th anniversary musical performance of ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ at the Royal Albert Hall. He made his Broadway debut as Jean Valjean in the cover production of “Les Miserables”, for which he was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical.
In 2019, the two held their first duo concert in Korea. Lee said Karimloo was the first artist he wanted to bring on stage and with whom he would also perform for his first show as a producer.
“It would be irresponsible as a producer not to bring such an artist on stage,” said Lee.
The two stars won’t be performing a musical together, but instead will feature an array of songs, including numbers popular with music fans, as well as a few songs that most may not be familiar with. They will also perform pop hits by well-known Korean artists like Michael Bublé and Celine Dion. Lee described the show as “more than a concert, more than just a song.”
“Our audience will be coming to see a full production, a full show,” Lee said.
Ahead of the concert, the two actors, who performed the concert version of “Jesus Christ Superstar” together in Japan, sat down for an online interview with local press last week. The following are edited excerpts.
Q. What is the highlight of the next concert?
A. Karimloo: There is one song that fans are going to love to hear. It’s not something I always sing about, but I can’t wait to do it. I’m gonna sing “Til I Hear You Sing” from “Love Never Dies”. It’s such a beautiful song and it’s a song that I love and love to play. By doing “Jesus Christ Superstar” here [in Japan], I feel my energy is renewed, my voice is renewed and my passion is renewed so what better way to throw all that energy found in a passionate song like “Till I Hear You Sing” among all the other songs we have .
Lee: We have a section in our show where we introduce numbers into new musicals that a lot of our audience won’t be familiar with. Ramin will also be presenting a new musical called “Rumi” which features some of the most intoxicating music I’ve heard in a long time. The musical is actually specifically Middle Eastern and very accessible. Ramin is going to sing a song called “Lightening”.
Andrew Lloyd Webber has a new musical based on the Cinderella story that will also premiere on August 25. Fingers crossed that we can share an issue called “Only You, Lonely You” of this show with Korean audiences. I think this is one of Andrew’s best new songs.
Can you give us more details about the new musical “Rumi”?
Karimloo: I will be playing one of the characters called Shams Tabrizi. This is a new musical from Dana Al Fardan, one of the foremost contemporary Middle Eastern composers and West End star Nadim Naaman. This is their second major musical after making their debut together “Broken Wings” (2018).
I have to say this is probably the best new music I have heard since “Love Never Dies”. It’s epic. It is authentic. It’s very passionate. It has that great Middle Eastern feel, but is also accessible to a general audience. I will be singing a song called “Lightening” in the next concert. I think even bringing it here just as a concert version first so people can get to know the music will be great. There really isn’t a single bad song on the original concept recording album, which came out in June. I never really listen to musical theater albums but I keep putting this one back because the music is wonderful. I don’t know how long I want to do musicals and I don’t know how long I want to sing, but it turns me on.
Is there a specific reason for you, Lee, to take on the new role of producer?
Lee: It’s my 15th birthday [since debuting] in Korea. It has been over 25 years since I started my career in the United States. So I think if you grow up in this industry as an actor, it’s a natural progression. There is a natural evolution towards the desire to be on the creative side. From actor to director, from creative director to producer. I went directly from actor to producer. But the reason is that through all these years, I started to feel more emotions and more creative energy outside the confines of my role in a show. Then I discovered that my emotions weren’t just in the acting but also in the creative aspect, the sound, the set and the costume design. I felt like I wanted to start doing things from the top down rather than from the actor’s point of view. And having that creative control and creating something out of nothing really turned me on. And so it just starts with a desire to do more than act and that’s where my heart has been for the last four or five years actually.
What you have in common is that you are musical comedians. Even if you are of different nationalities, having this common denominator of music seems to have enabled you to perform together. What power do you think music has?
Karimloo: For me, it was first and foremost a way to get away from it all. It was a way of being entertained and also of being entertained. There is a lot of power in a story to help create dialogue, build community, and educate. Music is like magic and what kind of magic it creates depends on who presents it and who receives it. I think there is a unique reaction per person because everyone comes to the theater for their own reason.
Lee: There is something very unique about combining the senses. We tie our music to emotion and whenever you can tie one of your senses to your emotions, it works magic. The device we use, the instrument we use here, is music. But when you connect that music to an emotion, to an experience, what we’re trying to control using the lights, the sound, and the staging, that’s the magic of theater. This is why this concert is so important to me. I don’t know where people are right now in the world and where their heart is, but if anything we’re singing connects them to an experience they’ve had that can take them outside of their immediate space right now […] That’s why we do theater and that’s why I do that. Seeing what their new experiences are and what new connections are made through something I love reminds me of why I do what I do. And as a producer, I bring in one of the people who do it best.
It’s not the first time you’ve played together. What is it like to work with the other person?
Karimloo: Michael is one of the hardest working people I know. I find his passion, his ethics, his dynamism very inspiring because like Michael, I started to look at other avenues. I love being a creative entrepreneur, whether it’s with the clothing business I just started or with the production of my own production company. I like to learn from him and play with him. I think his talent and his craft speak for itself, but from what I see behind the scenes I’m baffled by how he does it. He always creates. I think one thing we’ve learned over the past 18 months during the pandemic is that if you want to sit down at the table, you have to build your own table, and that’s what it does. He doesn’t wait for things to happen. He creates things to make them happen. I find it absolutely inspiring that he creates his own destiny.
Lee: From 2018, when I first met Ramin, I think I experienced the same as his fans all over the world. It is a naturally natural performer. I don’t know what his process is, but what he does definitely comes from his heart. There is nothing wrong. There is nothing invented about what he does. He finds the connection to the song he sings or the words he sings and he delivers it and there is something incredibly exciting about that. There is nothing fabricated about what you experience with him as a performer and him as a character on stage.
We know so many artists these days that we know what to expect. That’s not what Ramin does. He did it with “The Phantom of the Opera”, he did it with “Les Misérables”. He does it with every piece and he does it now as Judas in “Jesus Christ Superstar”. I never know what to expect and neither do the audiences and that’s what makes it exciting to bring that energy to Korea.
You will be performing a variety of songs, but what will be the dominant theme of the next concert?
Lee: When I started this project, the idea that we wanted to share with this concert was the idea of love. When you immediately say love, people mean romantic love. There are aspects of the show where we will sing romantic love songs from musicals like “Notre-Dame de Paris”. love of our work and love of family. There is going to be a very special number that I will be able to share with a member of my family on stage. So I think the dominant theme of this show is the love of art.
One song in particular explains how special theater is to the people who perform it. So, I would like to say to the Korean audience for the next concert, “get ready”. Not only get ready for a concert, but get ready for a show and get ready to fall in love with the theater again. I think it’s been so long since we’ve been able to do it. I am really delighted to be able to present and produce this opportunity for all of us to fall in love with the theater again.
BY YIM SEUNG-HYE [[email protected]]