ANTHONY Warlow has played some of the most iconic characters of the stage, but his latest role could top them all.
After a starring turn on Broadway as Daddy Warbucks in Annie, the theatre legend has returned home to play the Wizard in the new stage adaptation of The Wizard of Oz.
"When I was asked to do it, apparently there was a quiet reticence about asking me," he says.
"Why wouldn't I? The Wizard is one of the most iconic characters in literature and film history. In that regard it's wiping Phantom (of the Opera) off the plate."
The musical, developed from the ever-popular MGM screenplay with new songs by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, makes its Australian premiere in Brisbane tomorrow night.
It's the first national touring production of the much-loved story in 16 years.
"We're in rehearsals and it's extremely fast and furious. It's something like being caught in the middle of a twister, I'd suggest," Warlow said.
"The show was up on its feet at the end of the first week."
He is relieved to be staging the new show in front of such a notoriously receptive audience.
"I have started a lot of shows in Brisbane in my career. I love it. In a lot of ways it's a very forgiving audience," he said.
"Brisbane is a great way for actors to come in with a quiet and non-judgmental attitude. What we don't have in this country, which I lament, is a decent preview period for new works.
"This is a very technical show... I do ascend in a balloon, so I just hope that works. Otherwise I'll have to walk off stage."
Luckily two of his co-stars are already quite familiar with their characters. Wicked's Lucy Durack and Jemma Rix reprise their roles as rival witches Glinda and Elphaba.
"It's like the Star Wars franchise. We now have Princess Leia in another incarnation... and I'm just the old Obi-Wan Kenobi," Warlow laughed.
"They both have to work their magic in a more mature fashion, which is interesting. Jemma's character is quite different to what one would expect."
Warlow plays three characters in the musical: The Wizard, Professor Marvel and the Doorman.
"Professor Marvel is the showman, the snake oil salesman presenting his show to Dorothy in the (new) song Wonders of the World. He is the first to start to instil that message of 'home is the best place to be' into her memory bank," he says.
"The Doorman is the wacky character who you might remember says 'Who rang that bell?' in the movie.
"Then of course the Wizard is the catalyst (for the story) who is caught out.
"The universal theme through all of these characters, for me, is regret, loss and abandonment. The central theme of the show is you, as a person, are enough. You have all the qualities you are seeking, but sometimes it takes a journey for you to find you had them all the time.
"That's why I took it on. As an actor I want to instil some sort of moral, to entertain but also educate."
The Wizard of Oz plays QPAC's Lyric Theatre through December 3.
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