He's a hit … Anthony Warlow with Annie (Lilla Crawford) on Broadway.
ANTHONY WARLOW doesn't like opening nights. Even this one.
You'd think he'd make an exception. Australia's most recognised name in musical theatre has at last made his debut on Broadway.
At the Palace Theatre, which opens onto Times Square, Warlow walked on stage as the bald-headed billionaire Daddy Warbucks in a lavish, high-energy new production of the quintessentially New York musical Annie.
And the show's first reviews say he's a hit. The Hollywood Reporter praised Warlow's ''impressive Broadway debut'' in the production, which stars Lilla Crawford in the title role. ''The actor has tremendous stage chemistry with Crawford, and his pristine baritone makes Something Was Missing an unexpectedly moving high point.''
The Associated Press's reviewer described Warlow as first rate: ''This Australian actor brings gravitas and a sumptuous voice to Warbucks. His is a performance of subtlety, of small eyebrow movements. The only thing blustery is his Noo Yawk accent, nailed. Perhaps the reason the first half drags is he's not in it much.''
The New York Times applauded Warlow for ''inflecting his songs with unexpected emotional variety''.
Speaking hours before his debut on Thursday, Warlow said: ''I'm 50 years of age, I've had life experiences now that have made this a very special event for me.'' He was referring to his cancer diagnosis (non-Hodgkin lymphoma) in 1992.
''But I'll be honest with you, I don't like opening nights - I've never liked them. They're for the audience. The show that I will perform tonight is the show that I performed last night - I'm looking forward to the jubilation at the end but it's about just doing the work.''
Thanks to three weeks of previews (a luxury he has never enjoyed before in Australia), Warlow feels he is firmly ''up and running'' in the role of a busy billionaire surprised by his love for the orphan Annie.
He has played Warbucks twice in Australia, in 2011 and 2000. But he feels New York City has helped take the character to another level.
''When we did it in Australia it was broadly drawn comically,'' Warlow says. But the three-time Tony Award-winning director James Lapine - who cast Warlow before the pair even met, from watching videos on YouTube - told him he wanted a real person, not a caricature.
''He wanted everybody to really pull back to find reality in their characters,'' Warlow says.
Warlow made his home in Hell's Kitchen in Manhattan - the original home of the young Oliver Warbucks character - and spent many ''wonderful'' hours with a dialogue coach to infuse his voice with the back-story of the role: a self-made man from a rough background who lived the American Dream.
So why has it taken so long for him to debut on Broadway? Warlow says there were a few invitations that didn't work out because Actors Equity vetoed the idea of an Australian import in an American role.
But this time ''it really is about planets aligning'', Warlow says. ''I feel very comfortable, I feel right and ready for it.''
Warlow said he ''embraced New York City day two, when I arrived here, three months ago.''
But he knows he can't relax too much. Broadway can be a cut-throat place. Wicked, Spiderman and The Lion King are still going strong and there is a sassy new take on Cinderella as well as London's West End hit Matilda on the way. Competition is going to be particularly fierce (a New York Times writer said it was ''wishful thinking'' that there was enough audience to support all three new productions).
''In Australia, if you sell badly they still kick it on,'' Warlow says. ''Here I understand that shows can close very quickly. But I think that Annie is a stalwart that will remain, and people will love it. This is a very interesting take on the show - I think it resonates with both children and adults. It's only fair to give it a go and to present it to another generation.''