During rehearsals for the UK premiere concert production of Doctor Zhivago at Cadogan Hall on 1 September 2019, West End stars Ramin Karimloo and Celinde Schoenmaker kindly took a break to talk about the show and what audiences can expect…
How long have you been in rehearsals now?
Celinde: Me and Ramin have been working on it for a few weeks now – haven’t we?
Ramin: Yeah a couple of vocal calls and conversations is how it started.
Celinde: We just started a couple of weeks ago – just because it’s a whole show, it’s not like you do a concert and five songs. Even though it’s kind of similar because that’s the amount you would do – it’s all new to me. I didn’t know the show very well. I knew a show that Lucy Simon wrote – The Secret Garden – so I knew she was one hell of a musician and writer. Hearing it today was the first time I heard the ensemble stuff and its absolutely mind blowing.
Ramin: It’s passionate – so beautiful.
In a nutshell could you tell us what the story is about?
Ramin: Well it’s one of those, you know, with anything to do with Russian literature there is no nutshell. It’s a beautiful and in a way a progressive love story for its time.
Celinde: It is and first and foremost a love story, a love triangle in a kind of way. But also not a triangle because there are other people involved too. But it’s over the backdrop of the Russian revolution.
Ramin: I have done it all now, I have played the Doctor, I’ve played the Russians – I have put it all together in one show. That’s it – comedy from here on in!
How do you approach characters differently for a concert version than from a normal show?
Celinde: I think they are closer to your normal self. It’s always a hard line in concerts – because where do you stop acting? It’s always hard for me.
Ramin: Yes – you sell storytelling and I think this is one of those things that if it was performed live on radio it would make even more sense because it is really for the ears. It’s not visual but to hear it live that’s what you get from coming to a concert like this. You know we’re all still on book and using that because I think if we try and make it more than it is – without making it a fully fledged show you are going to fall in no man’s land. With presenting a new piece – which is the purpose of this – it’s really to let the lyrics, the music and the melodies do its work.
Sometimes as an actor I prefer when you do a workshop and you have to imagine things as you see it. So everyone’s version is unique and there’s no right or wrong and that’s a beautiful thing for an audience member when you aren’t spoon fed everything – you’re not visually fed everything, you have to do a bit of the work so you come along for the ride. What’s different is that allowing that to happen and not be apologetic about it not being a full show, not being apologetic that we are using books, to allow you to go down that journey and really to just to celebrate Lucy (Simon), Amy Powers and Cory’s work and to produce it for the first time – without it trying to be more than it is.
Have you a favourite song from the show or does it change on a day to day basis?
Ramin: Yes I’m still hearing it for the first time – when you did your solo today – I was like nice!
Celinde: That’s so sweet! I would say that I find that with him too! He is one of my favourite male voices – I want to say musical theatre but that’s not what you have its like a little edge. You’re one of those rare people who can go between classical and contemporary.
Ramin: Well that’s my untrainedness coming out because it doesn’t know what its doing!
Celinde: But I don’t find that I think that’s amazing. Overtime he sings a song I’m like ‘oh my god that’s so good’! There’s this one song that I heard because we were teaching as I, rather selfishly, only listen to things that I’m in, and everytime he went into a song, I think it was called ‘Ashes and Tears’, I was like oh that’s a good one – it’s a really good song.
Ramin: This is probably bad on my part but when I hear a song I think ‘oh this would be a nice one for the band!’ and the almost hymn that all the women sing together – in my head I can hear all those voices together. I think Lucy writes a bit of folk element into the music.
Celinde: I think she does that for The Secret Garden as well. It’s gorgeous.
Is that how you come up with your Broadgrass numbers as well?
Ramin: yes especially now that we have figured out what we are doing as a band and where we sit with musical theatre and actually celebrate the music because you know as artists, especially coming from a musical theatre background and you’re presented with an album deal which originally when I did it I wasn’t looking for it. Everyone tells you ‘you have to move away from theatre – you have to be a singer songwriter’ and I thought F**ck that . It got to the point that I thought that this is what made us to get us a deal so why would we run away from that so let’s celebrate it! So when I hear new stuff – I get more excited finding new theatre songs than writing songs – which I don’t know is good or bad but it is what it is.
Celinde: Musical theatre is constantly evolving as well. I find it so weird if people say ‘Oh I don’t like musical theatre’ so I’m like ‘ so you don’t like any music’.
As well as Doctor Zhivago, you both will be singing together as part of The Cardinals in Proms at the Park?
Ramin: We were just talking about The Cardinals this morning – that’s going to be a hard thing to keep going because everyone’s so busy – that’s the problem when you get four individual careers that we still want to support each other but then its like when do we get together and record.
Celinde: Yes so its those little jams and the little things that happen that are really great.
Ramin: I think that’s what keeps it special for us as well.
Celinde: Plus its nice for us to work together as well – because we have never worked together within the group so that’s really nice.
Ramin: That was the first time we had officially met too. Our paths had never actually crossed.
Celinde: No and they should have in a way – because we have all done the same shows. But its finally happening and its really nice because the score really suits us and I feel really connected to it.
Ramin: She’s perfect for Lara. If you have seen the film then you will think she is perfectly cast. A perfect role for her.
Could you compare the score to anything else that you have done?
Celinde: It’s interesting because I love Phantom its a part of me but I don’t only do that. I think that while Phantom is a part of us, we also have different sides to our voices – we like similar music as well. So it will never be too classical – if it has to be it has to be.
Ramin: But we’re not classically trained – that’s why I don’t use that word in public because to compare to an actual opera singer who has got craft and has studied it – no way could I do that.
Celinde: It’s nice that people think that – but that is literally another six years of studying.
Ramin: I think the problem is it is down to laziness as well where people will assume in this day and age with the way musicals are right now anything that comes from classical literature or classical time the parallels will come with the obvious. But that’s not the writer’s fault or intention I think its just slightly laziness – but I think at the same time we haven’t had a good piece of new musical theatre come in for a while. We have Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables – thank god – and they should stay – there’s a place for that. I think there is a real need for a new classical piece.
Are there any other characters in the show you would love to play?
Ramin: I wouldn’t mind giving Pasha a go. He’s fun.
Celinde: I like Tanya that’s a beautiful role as well. Only recently I was playing a little Italian woman who was cheated on – an interesting role but I quite like playing Lara because she is a little bit aggressive – and I’m a bit aggressive but weirdly I get cast in the “help me help me” roles.
Ramin: Yes but not many people can sing like you do! You’re a victim of your own talent!
Celinde: But I like playing Lara – a bit of a badass woman.
Ramin: that’s the thing about this show that strikes me – what i take from it is these two strong women coming out of it.The two women make the show.
Celinde: I agree – its very rare and its also that none of the music has been written as ‘I hate you’ but there’s more understanding. Arguably, Tanya is the strongest character and the anchor in the show.
Why should people come along?
Celinde: Well if the score doesn’t get you there it’s the orchestra, the whole story – everything you could want is in this show. There’s a lot of passion.
Ramin: Yes that’s the word I keep coming back to. But I want to answer that with why not?!
Celinde: It’s going to be amazing and really special.
By Emma Clarendon
Doctor Zhivago will be performed at Cadogan Hall on the 1st September.