Anthony Warlow doesn't really 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.
On Thursday night (US time) at the Palace Theatre which opens onto Times Square, Warlow was to walk on stage as the bald-headed billionaire Daddy Warbucks in a lavish, high-energy new production of that quintessentially New York musical, Annie.
And according to the show's first reviews, he's a hit. The Hollywood Reporter praised Warlow's "impressive Broadway debut" in the production, in which Lolla Crawford stars 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," wrote the reviewer.
The New York Times praised Warlow for "inflecting his songs with unexpected emotional variety".
Speaking hours before his debut, Warlow said: "I'm 50 years of age, I've had life experiences now that have made this a very special event for me," says Warlow, 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 in Australia), Warlow feels he is “up and running” in the role of a busy billionaire surprised by his love for the orphan Annie.
He has played Warbucks twice before in Australia, in 2011 and 2000. But he feels New York City has helped lift the character to another level.
“When we did it in Australia it was broadly drawn comically,” Warlow says. But 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. “It was a little challenging for me to strip off the characterisation that I had created in Australia.
“In the last 10 years I've discovered research. I love to make a history for a character that is interesting, that will live on stage. Really, as my father used to say, knowledge is power.”
Warlow has 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.
They decided there would be elements of Irish and Italian American accents (“cahfee” vs “cawfee”), to hint at his progress up the ladder.
They're tiny details – but Warlow says one of the joys of a New York audience is that they get it. For example, there's a joke about Bridgeport in the script that they just had to cut in Australia, but in New York it gets a laugh and helps build more naturally into the next song.
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.”
Once the show's opening is done, Warlow is looking forward to a visit from his daughter, who will begin her 'gap year' between school and university with a month or so exploring New York with her dad.
“I embraced New York City day two when I arrived here, three months ago,” Warlow says. “It will be wonderful to see her.”
But he knows he can't relax too much. Broadway can be a cutthroat 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 smash 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.”