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Annie Star Anthony Warlow on Five Classic Roles & the Show He Dreams of Bringing to Broadway

Annie Star Anthony Warlow on Five Classic Roles & the Show He Dreams of Bringing to Broadway
Anthony Warlow analyzes six classic musical roles, from Henry Higgins to Oliver Warbucks.

A superstar in his native Australia, Anthony Warlow has spent the past 10 months giving a commanding Broadway debut performance as Daddy Warbucks in Annie, a run he has just extended opposite Faith Prince as Miss Hannigan. Given the depth of his stage resume Down Under, Warlow could choose from a long list of musical heroes for his Role Call, and in a wide-ranging chat with Broadway.com, he spotlighted five classic leading men, plus a smaller “gem” of a show that he would love to revive on the Great White Way.

Role That Brought Me to Broadway
“I’ve done three productions of Annie now [as Oliver Warbucks], and I think I’ve finally found the arc of the character. [Broadway revival director] James Lapine’s vision is very different from Martin Charnin’s original concept, which had more broad, slapstick humor. The character comes in as a cantankerous, bullying businessman, and within four minutes, he’s met this girl and wants to adopt her. As an actor, you have to come up with some reasons why. He sees himself in Annie because he’s an orphan, too, but their bond has to be established very quickly, and that’s been easier to do in James’ version. Some of my critics at home [in Australia] said, ‘If you’re going to Broadway, the theatrical mecca, why would you do a role like Warbucks?’ Number one, it’s a fabulous role with two wonderful songs. And I get to appear on Broadway for the first time looking like myself. I feel very honored to have been asked.”

Role That Made Me Fall in Love With Musicals
“The first commercial role I ever played was Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls [1986] when I was all of 24, and it was trial by fire. I had been with the Australian Opera for five years, and when I was offered this musical, the artistic director encouraged me to take it. I fell in love with the idea of honing a performance over time and finding the routine [necessary] to do eight shows a week. Sky Masterson and Sarah Brown are two of the most difficult roles in the musical theater canon because they’re the straight men surrounded by wacky characters. In playing Sky, I discovered that musicals are not just about telling a story and singing beautiful songs: It’s about using your personality so that the audience falls in love with you as the character. That was a big eye-opener.”

Role That Fast-Tracked My Career
“In 1990, I was directed by Hal Prince in The Phantom of the Opera. It was the fourth production of the show internationally, and at 29, I was the youngest Phantom. Hal once told me that 90 percent of a role is casting, and he felt that even though I was young, I had the innate ability to play this kind of gothic character without being a two-dimensional gargoyle. When you think about it, the role is not cathartic. He loses the girl, but there’s a deep-seated nurturing element that’s required. I played the Phantom again in 2007 so that my daughter could see me do it. It was a tough gig because my audience knew me well by then, and I wanted to imbue the role with a lot of vocal [power]; I give it so much that it’s quietly exhausting. Having done it twice, I don’t need to do it again.”

Role That Was the Most Healing
The Secret Garden [1995, as Archibald Craven] is my favorite musical of all time. The show is about the redeeming qualities of children, and my daughter was born the year I did it, which resonated incredibly for me. It was also the first major role I took on after having cancer at age 30, so I found it a very healing experience. [Composer] Lucy Simon came to Australia to see our production, and we developed an almost spiritual connection that led to me doing her musical of Doctor Zhivago. The role of Archie Craven is so beautifully written—everything an actor would want to convey about this introverted man is there in the dialogue and lyrics. He has a hunchback, and my brother-in-law is a bone surgeon, so I did a lot of research about what scoliosis is like. The show itself is a beautiful little gem; I would love to do it on Broadway.”

Role That Improved My Acting
“I’ve played Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady three times [first in 1993]. It’s a big, old-fashioned musical with the most extraordinary book: To tackle that dialogue is a big commitment, but the satisfaction and the payoff is massive. At first I thought, ‘I’ll give this a different take. I’ll actually sing it more.’ But after about two weeks of rehearsal, I discovered that Rex Harrison hit the nail on the head back in the 1950s—he was able to create a musical pattern that was right for the show. I added a few vocal tricks, but My Fair Lady was the show extended my acting chops and helped me discover how to let dialogue bleed into vocals. I believe that Higgins and Eliza have a platonic relationship. It’s based on George Bernard Shaw and Mrs. Patrick Campbell, who had a great platonic love. Today, audiences want to know that Higgins and Eliza get together. The way we staged it, they are walking toward each other as the curtain comes down. I loved that, because it’s up to the audience to decide.”

Role That Was the Most Inspirational
“The King Lear of musical theater in Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha [2003]. I studied Cervantes, and I love the whole idea of the Quixotic journey—this silly old man who is in love with thin air. As the priest sings, ‘Dulcinea, she’s made of flame and air.’ There is something heartfelt and naive about the character that I absolutely adored. It was a tough time for me because I lost my father during the production, and this was a role he would have loved to see me do on the commercial stage. Before he passed away, I left the show for a week to say my farewells. When I came back, the characters around me during the death scene would be tearing up, but I was in complete control physically and emotionally because I knew that my father was with me, helping me through.”

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