Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne
Mutual love flowed back and forth between stage and audience as Melbourne musical theatre aficionados were treated to a thrilling display of pure talent from Ramin Karimloo and special guest Anna O’Byrne.
International musical theatre star Karimloo scored massive applause from the adoring crowd before even singing a note, a terrific achievement for a stage performer without a crossover movie or television profile. As much as the capacity audience came along predestined to love Karimloo, admiration and adoration increased with the opportunity to hear the great man live on stage.
Performing at the front of the stage, and backed by six hardy musicians, Karimloo effectively transformed the grand concert hall into an intimate venue, cultivating the relaxed, amiable vibe of a pub gig. Offsetting a dark three-piece suit with a pale, open-necked shirt, Karimloo moved with ease from storytelling to singing to accompanying himself on guitar.
Mixing trademark songs with ones that got away, along with a smattering of his original compositions, Karimloo amazed the audience with vocal heft and soaring high notes. Switching deftly from tender chest voice to exquisitely controlled head voice, the constant characteristic of Karimloo’s singing is the depth of expression he brings to the lyrics. Well-known songs are heard as if for the first time when given his intelligent, nuanced treatment.
Karimloo teased the local audience with a couple of songs from Broadway musicals that Melbourne is yet to see, opening the show with jaunty balled “Neverland” from Finding Neverland and later sharing the rousing “It All Fades Away” from The Bridges of Madison County.
Early musical theatre favourites included “High Flying Adored” (Evita) and “Anthem” (Chess), both from roles Karimloo has played. From his higher profile roles, Karimloo showed the full beauty of his voice in “Bring Him Home” (Les Misérables) and earned an early standing ovation with spine-tingling act one closer “Til I Hear You Sing” (Love Never Dies).
Melbourne-born actress Anna O’Byrne was an ideal choice for special guest, and not just for having her own background starring in Love Never Dies. An exquisite soprano and stellar actress, O’Byrne matched Karimloo in vocal flair, and the pair enjoyed a warm stage relationship.
Beginning with “Blue Moon,” from her debut album Dream, O’Byrne brought a breathtaking freshness to signature tune “Love Never Dies” and joined with Karimloo for sweet Love Never Dies duet “Once Upon Another Time.” Dressed in a slinky pale blue gown, O’Byrne beamed with pleasure to be singing in her hometown to an audience that included family and friends.
O’Byrne paired with Karimloo again to tell the story in Jason Robert Brown’s “I’d Give It All For You.” In an act two bracket, O’Byrne switched the gender in the title song of She Loves Me, before taking her high notes to the stratosphere with a crystalline rendition of “The Sound of Music,” dedicated to mentor, director and friend, Julie Andrews.
After the shocking admission that Karimloo has never seen the movie “The Sound of Music,” the pair duetted again on a gentle arrangement of “Edelweiss,” simply accompanied by Karimloo on acoustic guitar. Final duet “Muddy Water” was a rockabilly throwback to late 1980s Melbourne favourite Big River.
An expert storyteller in song and speech, Karimloo interspersed his own compositions, enhancing the performances with highly personalised introductions. The full extent of Karimloo’s talent was shown when, at the prompting of audience member Matt from Melbourne, he gave an impromptu solo performance of “Murder in the City.” With a final encore of Andrew Lloyd Webber standard “Music of the Night,” Karimloo was gone, leaving a grateful crowd with a set of memories to cherish.