Anthony Warlow has long been one of Australia's most popular leading men, in both the worlds of opera and musical theater, and is now making his long-awaited Broadway debut as Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks in James Lapine's 35th anniversary production of Annie at the Palace alongside Tony Award winner Katie Finneran as the scheming Miss Hanigan and young Lilla Crawford in the title role. He shared his thoughts with TheaterMania on this production, his own feelings about spending large chunks of money, why straight men can play gay roles, and the joy of being bald.
How do you feel this production is different than the two Annies you did in Australia?
It's quite different in that this one has a real emotional gravity. The last one we did, particularly, was painted with much broader comic strokes. Warbucks was this blustery cantankerous guy; I likened him to Mr. Mooney in I Love Lucy. Here, James has asked all of us to tap into the realism of what we're talking about. For instance, we have a newsreel at the beginning of the show for people who don't know about that time period.
What has been the biggest challenge for you in this production?
Apart from being the conduit to James' vision, it's the accent. Rather than using an Upper East Side sound, I had to give Warbucks a Hell's Kitchen accent from his growing-up days. It really does inform the character and sort of telegraphs to the audience that this is a self-made man instead of someone born into money. I find that aspect of him wonderful to play.
If you had Warbucks' money, what would you do with it?
I definitely would put some into medical research because of my history with cancer. [Warlow was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma in 1992.] And I'd help family and friends to a point. But I definitely would be one of those thrifty types. I've done pretty well in my career, and I've watched colleagues who have spent most of the paychecks they receive on shoes and cars rather than bricks and mortar, and that's not me.
I don't see anything too fancy in this dressing room. Am I missing something?
There isn't -- apart from my silver tray. I do like silver. I love antiques. I collect Georgian glass at home. When you think about how fragile that it is and think about how long these things have lasted – some of it is 400 years old -- I find the history of these things extraordinary.
I do see some fancy alcoholic beverages on the tray, though?
I offer it to the visitors who come by. In Australia, we're not allowed to have any alcohol backstage. And in any case, I don't drink before the show or in the middle of it. Can you imagine what would happen if I did?
Being around all those little girls for so many years hasn't driven you to drink?
No, I've been very blessed with having terrific Annies in the past. The only issue I found in Australia was forming a decent relationship with the children; because of the laws there, we had three children as Annie who would alternate in the part and you'd never get a chance to really bond with any of them. One reason this production has been a joy is because Lilla has been with me since day one.
Is being a musical theater actor considered a masculine thing in Australia?
That's an interesting question. I've been asked in the past to play Albin in La Cage Aux Folles, which I know I could do quite successfully, because being a straight man, I think I'm a good observer of human nature and I could pick up a lot of those traits. Sometimes in Australia, we have some gay guys who are playing straight roles very very well, and there are others you just see where there's a chink in the armor and it's a tell-tale sign. But if some people think it shows a feminine side to be in the theater, I've never felt that. And I'll openly say that an intelligent person who is a sensitive person will be and should be in touch with their inner female. And whether I'm correct in saying this or not, I've always tried to find the soft spot in every role I've done, especially The Phantom of The Opera and Man of La Mancha. I think there's some feminine aspects to those shows.
Is the bald look strictly a Warbucks thing?
This is me, although I've shaved it shorter than ever now. When I had my cancer, the chemotherapy took my hair away. So then I decided I would just keep it short, and this is my signature now. The great thing about it is that I am a bit of a chameleon, so you can put a wig on me and I look totally different. And I have to say that the wig department here is one of the best I've ever worked with. The wigs here move like real hair; they're not stuck down with product. They are really beautiful.