Colm Wilkinson, in a fundraising performance, duets with Ramin Karimloo in the song "Bring Him Home" at the Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto in a moment that took 24 years to arrive.
It's a moment that took 24 years to happen.
Saturday night, on the stage of the Princess of Wales Theatre, Ramin Karimloo, the man currently playing Jean Valjean in Les Misérables, and Colm Wilkinson, the man who originally created the role, stood together and sang “Bring Him Home,” while a capacity audience of 2,000 held their collective breath.
They sang separately, then together, the slightly rougher texture of Karimloo’s voice contrasting superbly with the remembered sweetness of Wilkinson’s angelic sound.
And then, for that celestial final note, Karimloo stepped back and let Wilkinson send the last sound winging heavenward.
Back in 1990, Wilkinson was playing the title role in The Phantom of the Opera at the Pantages Theatre (as it was then called). In the audience one Wednesday afternoon was a 12-year-old kid from Richmond Hill, dragged to see the show as part of a school trip.
That was Karimloo. His family were refugees from political oppression in Iran who had settled in Canada. Young Karimloo had embraced life here completely, to the extent that his world began and ended with hockey.
Until he heard Wilkinson sing that day.
“I thought, ‘I’m not going to sit through this.’ I mean, I had never seen a stage show in my life,” Karimloo told the Star. “But by the end, I started welling up. And when Colm took his bow, I suddenly thought, ‘I would like to do that.’ ”
The young man became such a fan that, by 1994, he had seen the show 10 times and was profiled in the Star on Dec. 1 of that year as a “Grade 11 student from Alexander Mackenzie High School who has seen The Phantom of the Opera 10 times” and went backstage at the Pantages as part of his school’s job-shadowing program.
The advice Wilkinson gave him about singing in rock musicals was “just sing with rock bands. That will teach you how to do it.”
Karimloo followed his idol’s advice, in a Tragically Hip tribute band, but soon realized he had to break away to get the life he was seeking.
By 17, he was singing on a cruise ship; by 21, he was singing on a London stage; two weeks before his 25th birthday, he was in the show he had always dreamed of — The Phantom of the Opera.
He was playing Raoul at first, not the Phantom, but that soon followed. As he now recalls, “twelve years to the day from when that article about me appeared in the Star, I was playing the Phantom in London.”
More success followed, including creating the Phantom in the sequel, Love Never Dies, before finally stepping into Les Misérables, opening in his hometown in the role the man he most revered had created.
Wilkinson was there on opening night last fall to cheer him on.
“When I see him play Jean Valjean onstage, I forget that I ever did it. He’s absolutely amazing,” Wilkinson said.
But the two had never performed in the show together and the circle remained uncompleted, until producer Cameron Mackintosh invited Wilkinson to enter the show for just one night in Toronto, in the role of the Bishop, which he had played in the film version.
The major purpose was to aid five charities of Wilkinson’s choice (Casey House, Covenant House, Ernestine’s Women’s Shelter, the Franciscan Missionary Sisters for Africa and Theatre 20), but theatregoers also thrilled at the thought of the two superstars on stage together.
The entire performance was electric, galvanized by the tremendous audience response that greeted Wilkinson’s initial entrance in the role of the Bishop, the man whose generosity launches Valjean on his road to redemption.
The look they exchanged spoke volumes.
And the rest of the cast rose to the occasion as well, performing with a passion that filled the auditorium, making it an unforgettable evening in Toronto’s theatre history.
It was amazing to see the years melt away, not just the ones since Wilkinson first sang “Bring Him Home,” but the years since a young man new to this country heard another newcomer to this land raise his voice in a way that would inspire him to one day thrill us all.
The Colm Wilkinson Fan Club
Canadian Premiere Tour
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