Producer John Frost tentatively approached Anthony Warlow about taking on the title role in the Wizard of Oz, asking, “Do you think you’d want to play the Wizard?”
Without hesitation, Anthony Warlow replied, “I’d love to! I loved the movie, even though the first thing our director said on the first day was ‘Those who’ve seen the movie, forget it, because while it is that, this is a play with music’ and I love that idea, that we’re instilling these characters with truth, basically.”
Warlow saw this new production of The Wizard of Oz at the London Palladium, with Michael Crawford in the role of the Wizard.
“I saw the pageantry of it. It was massive! The smell of popcorn and children everywhere and I thought this is really a crowd-pleaser. It was really well done.”
It’s been sixteen years since a professional production of The Wizard of Oz has toured Australia. Since then, the show has been rewritten.
“The show was given into the hands of Andrew (Lloyd Webber) and Tim Rice. There are five new musical moments, everything else is the same. We all know ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’, ‘Ding Dong the Witch is Dead’ and ‘If I Only Had a Heart’ and whatever, and they’re all there, there are just things that will flesh it out a bit more,” explained Warlow.
Anthony Warlow plays the dual roles of Professor Marvel and the Wizard of Oz.
“The first piece I get is a lovely song called ‘Wonders of the World’ and that’s sung by Professor Marvel. He’s the first character Dorothy meets as she’s running away from home and it’s a … quietly, difficult patter song, thank-you Tim Rice!” Warlow laughed.
Although the cast are still very early into rehearsals, Warlow admits this new song by Tim Rice has been a challenge to learn.
“I feel like he’s written lyrics and he’s then thought, ‘How I can make this more esoteric?’ Honestly, I’d thought I’d lost it. I thought I’ve just hit that time when you can’t remember, you can’t retain, and I was writing things out, and after three weeks, I still didn’t have it in my head. I thought, ‘Don’t panic it will be fine, you’ll get on the floor and you’ll have actions that will guide you.’ I won’t give it away, but there are moments when there are certain images that appear and I thought, ‘That will be okay, because the image will appear and that will prompt me,’ but no, I say the word and then the image appears! I’ve got to get it right!” exclaimed Warlow.
“The Wizard gets a cracker of a short and sweet, I call it a rock and roll moment, at the end of act one, Dorothy also gets a new song and the two witches have songs. So Lucy (Durack) gets one about home and Jemma (Rix) gets a song: ‘Red Shoes Blues’. When you think about that character she deserves a song because she’s the antagonist.”
Apart from The Wizard of Oz being a story that Anthony Warlow has always loved, and being impressed by this newest production, taking on the role of the Wizard is an opportunity for Warlow to give back. Better known as a more “serious music theatre person” Warlow sees this role as way to give something back to a new generation of theatre goers. The book has been reworked and whittled down, so despite new songs being added, it’s not a long show, making it great for families.
“For me, it’s about giving.”
Rehearsals are now underway and Warlow said it’s been a very fast and furious process.
“The first day we were all together we just did a reading and even then you could tell this was going to be exciting and fun,” said Warlow.
Warlow explained the show is quite a technical one, which does limit the amount of freedom the performers have in creating their roles.
“There are some things that have to be done a certain way and marks that have to be landed in a certain spot, mainly because of the health and safety … so the blocking is really important.”
However, beyond the technical and safety aspects, Warlow does have some freedom to create his own interpretation.
When rehearsing the scene where the Wizard is handing out the medals, they came to a point in the show that involves the Wizard playing with a deck of cards. Warlow was told by the director that this particular moment has never worked in the show. He told the director to just let him play with it and see what he could do.
“So I did something and it worked! I used to be an amateur magician. I was just pushing a particular card out and I thought ‘They’re not going to see that!’, so I just did this particular thing and … it got a giggle!”
It’s the first time this moment in the show has actually worked. Warlow said that’s their job as performers.
“We’re given a whole lot of material and it’s almost like you sew it together and make a suit. And that’s the challenge – and it’s also the thing that keeps you up at night. Maybe I should do this, maybe that would make it better,” said Warlow.
Despite receiving top-billing for the title role as the Wizard of Oz, Anthony Warlow says the show is not about him, it’s about Dorothy, played by Samantha Dodemaide.
“It’s really Sam’s show. It’s Dorothy’s show with the boys – and they are extraordinary. What I’ve seen of these kids is extraordinary, and it’s a young company. Some kids have not done anything before and it’s very exciting. There’s a lot of good energy.”
There’s no one more excited to see Anthony Warlow take on the role of the Wizard of Oz than his own daughter, who is now 23 years old.
“She was excited when I did Fiddler, but when I old her I was doing this, she said, ‘Oh my God, this is my favourite thing in the world, I can’t wait to see that!’ So she’ll be there, with a critical eye, no doubt,” laughed Warlow.
“It’s wonderful to be given the opportunity and to give back,” said Warlow, excited to be Australia’s latest wonderful Wizard of Oz.
For more information and tickets: https://www.wizardofozthemusical.com/