Australian baritone Anthony Warlow, an opera and musical theatre star Down Under, has played his share of roles in which the leading man doesn't overtly "get the girl." That is, the relationships were platonic. Uncle Archie in The Secret Garden. Higgins in My Fair Lady. The title role in Man of La Mancha. And so it goes with Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks, the billionaire Republican of the Tony Award-winning 1977 musical Annie. His leading lady is an 11-year-old orphan, first seen in the funny papers in a comic strip created by Harold Gray.
Warlow has played role twice before, in Australia. The show's lyricist (and original director) Martin Charnin was so impressed that he pushed for Warlow's hiring for the new 35th-anniversary Broadway revival being directed by James Lapine. We chatted with Warlow in his dressing room at the Palace Theatre during previews.
Annie is one of those shows that is for both adults and kids — there's a level of craft, sincerity, risk and relationships in the writing that makes it all more than just bubble gum.
Anthony Warlow: I think what James [Lapine] has done is make it a kids' show, but an adults' show, as well. That's why I was interested in it because I knew that James would put his signature on it. As hard as it may have been in the process and as challenging as it has been, I think that it's paying off. Particularly, for the Warbucks character, you really do feel that there is a connection from the first scene and the arc through to the end. When I've done it in previous productions — these last two, for instance — the strokes have been very broad and quite comic. In the other productions, the first act is comic, and then the second act becomes a drama, and you've got to find somewhere — particularly with "NYC," where literally you have four minutes — to change from this man who didn't want the kid in the room to wanting to adopt her. There's got to be some kind of emergence of her spirit getting into his armor. That's my challenge for this thing, and to keep it truthful.
|photo by Joan Marcus|
In general, was James' note, "These are real people, not cartoons"?
AW: Yeah. I mean, there's a wonderful moment that is very, very different — very different — to the scene work in the original. We've made changes, as you may have noticed. Annie comes in and he says, "Annie, can we have a man-to-man talk? I was born in a very poor family," and talks about that and gives her the locket. And then she doesn't want it. So he's giving his life over to her — he's opened up — and then she says no. So the stakes have gone: "Bang! Crash!" Of course, he says, "I'll tell you what, I'll find them for you. Don't get upset." In the earlier incarnation, it was "Oh! Don't, don't, don't… Don't be upset! Don't! Kids! I don't know how to deal with this. I'll get you a brandy!" Funny, funny, funny. In this version, as James rightly said — and it is very true — this guy is used to getting everything he wants. He's a winner. [Warbucks] is saying to her, "You've got no life. I'm offering you a life. And, I like you, and we can get on." And, she says, "No. I don't want it. I want my real parents."
This is a guy who's never been said "no" to.
AW: That's right. First slap in the face. So I play that in this version. When she puts the locket down, it's real.
A moment of subdued anger and frustration for Warbucks.
AW: "How?" "You little…!" You noticed I probably do a little bit of that. James [is] kind of deconstructing the show and then reconstructing from places of truth. So even the Hannigan comes from an absolute place of truth. It's not all shtick. And, for me particularly, he's pulling back a lot of the possibilities of broad, sort of cantankerous, clustering, kind of billionaire acting, and that's wonderful for me because I've experienced that side. Now I've come back, into this production, and [James] said to me — in Brisbane, actually, when we spoke when I was offered the role — "Even though you've been doing this role for nine months, what have you, are you prepared to strip off all that you've done and start from scratch?" And, I said, "Yes. That's the challenge. That's what I want to do." And, with his guidance and the guidance of Deborah Hecht, of course, who is the incredible dialogue coach, I think I'm in very good hands. In a lot of productions, I've been told that Warbucks, dialect-wise, has been Upper East Side, but here we're working on a very grounded New York accent, and that informs many, many parts of the plot very, very well.
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