Anthony Warlow’s Biggest Moments

Anthony Warlow’s Biggest Moments

Chicago was the last big musical on Anthony Warlow’s bucket-list. Now on a national tour playing Billy Flynn, the 62-year-old has revealed that he thought his opportunity to play the star lawyer had passed. David Spicer reports, in association with the podcast ‘Stages with Peter Eyers’.

Anthony Warlow is Australia’s most successful music theatre star, with decades of leading roles on local stages, plus Broadway appearances, yet in 2019 he thought his career was at a crossroads.

“I was about to commence rehearsals for The Secret Garden when COVID happened. Since then, it has been almost four years without major work, and I thought maybe it was the world telling me it's time to slow down.

“And to be honest with you, if that was the case, I'd be more than happy to just stop, because I'm very proud of what I've done.”

The offer from John Frost and Crossroads Live to star in the latest national tour of Chicago was just what the doctor ordered.

“Billy Flynn is a role that has eluded me for years. The saccharine charm of the character along with his cunning and wile, not to mention his ego, are hard to resist.

“I was eager to join the long list of stars who have enjoyed taking on this silver-tongued prince of the courtroom.”

It’s a razor tight musical with great tunes and great lines. His favourite?

If Jesus Christ had lived in Chicago today and if he had five thousand dollars, things would have turned out differently!

“I love Billy’s confidence, but personally I’m not wild about his scruples.

“I have no doubt that there are some lawyers who have adopted strategies that to many may seem somewhat unethical. At the end of the day, they are there to win the case, and serve their clients to the best of their ability. Wink, wink!”

Image (above r): Zoë Ventoura, Anthony Warlow and Lucy Maunder. (c) Juliet Taylor

In an extensive interview with the podcast ‘Stages with Peter Eyers’, Anthony reflected on some of the biggest moments in his career and life.

Breaking into professional theatre from Wollongong.

At school Anthony honed his aptitude for mimicry by impersonating the voice and physical features of a brother at Edmund Rice College, who walked around the playground with his arms behind his back.

“I was in my element and that’s kind of where it started.

“When I was 11, my father came home after work, sat me down in the lounge room and said, ‘Would you be interested in learning to sing correctly with a teacher?’ And I said, ‘yes.’

“I had auditioned at the time for Oliver! with the Arcadians Musical Theatre Company. I didn't get the role, but I was in the chorus as an urchin.”

Lead roles soon followed. Once he had to learn a lead part in Guys and Dolls in a day (good preparation for his eventual appearance in the musical in the National Theatre production).

At 18, he was determined to get the role of Don Quixote in a production of Man of La Mancha, even though he was too young for the part. He hired a costume and a wig once worn by the legendary dancer Robert Helpmann, applied prosthetic make-up and had a portrait photograph taken of him in character. The photo was presented to the audition panel.

“I said, ‘I know I'm young, but I feel this character is in me. I would like to go behind a screen to perform.’ And when I came out (the director) was tearing up.”

Whilst still a teenager he joined Opera Australia for Benjamin Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream. He had one line of dialogue and took the opportunity to sing it, catching the ear of the then musical director Richard Bonynge – the husband of Joan Sutherland.

“And one night Richard turned up at my dressing room door. We did some scales, and he said, ‘my dear, it’s quite a voice’.”

Becoming The Youngest Phantom

When the Australian premiere of The Phantom of the Opera was being cast, Anthony was in Les Misérables.

“I was 27 and I auditioned for the parts of Raoul and The Phantom. I slicked my hair back so I would look like The Phantom.

“I was asked to come back the next day with my hair floppy dry, to sing for Raoul, so I only learnt ‘All I Ask Of You’.”

But on the day, he was surprised to be asked to sing the Phantom’s solo ‘Music of the Night’, which he had not learned.

“Cameron Mackintosh said to me, ‘I just want to say one thing – The Phantom is dangerous.’

“It was dangerous to audition with a song you have not practised. I said, ‘I don’t know the aria. Would you mind if I hold the sheet music.’

“This added to the energy of my performance but (it was stressful for) the poor pianist. I walked off after the last note. The director Hal Prince was overheard saying, ‘We’ve found our Phantom.’

“It was big deal to me as I was youngest person in the world to do it.”

Warlow said playing the role was hard work, with one of the major challenges being wearing the stifling mask. Initially he performed in a skullcap that forced sweat to dribble down his face onto the stage.

Later he experimented with a shaved head and prosthetics that were melted onto his head. It was based on a picture he saw of a weird face and small ear.

“I didn’t see other people perform the role. I wanted to create my own (interpretation).”

Cancer Fight

Anthony Warlow was preparing to tour Australia in an arena tour of Jesus Christ Superstar when he noticed something was wrong.

“I felt physically heavy. When I bent over, I could feel blood rush to my head. Then I felt a cyst under my jaw.

“I was nervous as hell at a press launch and I saw on the TV coverage that my face was blown out and I looked stressed.”

He had a biopsy, and the diagnosis came back – Lymphoma. Surgery saved his life.

“Something in me told me that I am not going to die. Still, it was touch and go.”

Warlow needed 12 months to let his body recover.

“I put on a huge amount of weight and when I did come back as a vocalist I noticed a freshness, brightness and freedom in my voice.”


Anthony Warlow is famous for his recordings and the most iconic is his soaring rendition of ‘This is The Moment’ from the concept album of the musical Jekyll and Hyde.

“I had been on chemotherapy for six months, which made me very tired.

“I did say to the composer Frank Wildhorn to not worry about explaining the concept of a transformation, because I was on chemotherapy (tablets). I knew about a red therapy and a dye going into my body.”

In the podcast Warlow revealed that he was wooed to play the role in a full season but knocked it back because he was concerned about the demands of performing the role eight times a week. He appeared in a concert version of Jekyll and Hyde staged in Australia in 2019, and for the Sydney performance pulled off a miracle by getting through the performance with a heavy cold.

Performing On Broadway

Image: Daddy Warbucks (Anthony Warlow) and Annie (Lucille Le Meledo). Photographer: Jeff Busby. 

Anthony made his Broadway debut in 2013 portraying the iconic role of Oliver 'Daddy' Warbucks in the 35th Anniversary production of Annie.

“In a way it was big and scary. I knew I had done the role, but the biggest thing for me was convincing the audience that I was an American.”

He was relieved when a member of the audience approached him afterwards asked,

‘What part of New York do you come from?’

The producers of Annie paid him a special accolade.

“They said, ‘We have never had a ‘Daddy’ Warbucks who could sing.’ So (the composer) Charles Strouse wrote the song ‘Why Should I Change a Thing’ (for me).”

As it happened Warlow later dropped the song from his performances because he did not think it was necessary to the plot.

His next Broadway gig was as the replacement lead as Captain Hook in the musical Finding Neverland. He was stepping into the shoes of the Frasier star Kelsey Grammer.

“It was absolutely frightening. I had ten days to learn the role and I was replacing Frasier, someone who was loved and known.”

Warlow did not see Grammer play the lead, instead developing his own interpretation.

In preparing for all roles, he prides himself on finding out as much of the back-story as possible.

“I love the research of any character I play. (For Chicago) I did a lot of reading and searching the genesis of the character. Billy Flynn has become the amalgamation of the two lawyers who were able to have both women acquitted.

“His opening song, ‘All I Care About is Love’ seems to (sum up) his very existence in the show, however, I see it as a kind of ‘jingle’ for his expertise, a smoke and mirrors advertisement for his practice.

“I lean on his showman-like qualities and take pleasure in moments when the audible response from the audience clarifies character choices I’ve made, which reinforce the storytelling.

“There are also musical clues that can be used. At the top of my first entrance, for instance, as the girls sing “We want Billy”, the violin plays a tremolo ascending and descending scale. This sounds ‘snake-like’ to me and I use it to ‘slither’ my way (metaphorically) to the top of the stairs before the opening line, ‘Is everybody here?’ ”

Chicago opened in Perth and Brisbane ahead of its Sydney and Melbourne seasons.

“I have been able to hone my performance, to fine tune moments which now are solid. The surprising thing for me, from the commencement of rehearsals, was just how precise this show is.

“Every moment, every gesture, must be carefully crafted and drilled until it appears effortless. The cadence and speed with which Billy’s dialogue is delivered took time to create before I felt comfortable and at ease with his celebrated ‘silver tongue’.”
And what is still on Anthony Warlow’s bucket list?

“I’ve been privileged to have performed many iconic music theatre roles in my career. I would like the challenge of being presented in a play at some time. Period drama speaks to my sensibilities.”

Listen to more of Anthony Warlow at the Stages with Peter Eyers podcast.

Chicago continues its Australian tour in Sydney from June 9 and Adelaide on August 4.


Chicago production images by Jeff Busby.


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