Partnership of leading man and character actress should excite the music theatre community.

Adelaide Festival Theatre

June 10, 2014

Anthony Warlow has been entertaining audiences for decades, but has been absent from the Australian stage since making his Broadway debut in 2012. Last night, he made a glorious return to his homeland, accompanied by Annie co-star and Broadway veteran Faith Prince.

The Adelaide Art Orchestra’s triumphant drums and brass opened the show with the Overture to Gypsy. Despite his energetic flourishes, Musical Director Joey Chancey (who also arrived Direct From Broadway) battled with the flailing AdAO. The orchestra struggled with the overture’s varied tempi and rhythmic passages, tardily attended to poor intonation, and failed to conceal mispitched and split notes from within the brass. It was disappointing that these issues were not confined to the opening number, but are clearly a result of the orchestra’s myriad commitments during the festival.

Unperturbed by a less than impressive introduction, Warlow received a frenzied response when he finally graced the stage. Frank Sinatra’s Just in Time was an unusual choice, but he sang with a style and timbre that would surely have pleased the American crooner. Most importantly though, the song’s lyrics lay the foundation for the show’s overarching theme: the musical journey of two friends.

As Warlow’s first song concluded, Prince made her welcome entrance. Then, some light dialogue and the two launched straight into a selection of solos and duets, performing the tunes for which they are known, as well as a jukebox of other Broadway classics. Goosebumps were uncontrollable during an Annie medley, as well as other stunning numbers like What Kind of Fool Am I? and Soliloquy by Warlow, and The Boy From and Take Back Your Mink by Prince.

Guided down a nostalgic path, the audience revelled in the beautiful scores and lyrics of a Broadway from times gone by. But, beside a handful of Sondheim numbers, the show lacked stylistic variety and a real climactic moment. Perhaps the inclusion of a few contemporary numbers might have assuaged this problem. Both Warlow and Prince gave stunning performances, and more than anything else, it was thrilling to see such legends within arm’s length.

Warlow is the typical leading man, while Prince is more the comedic character actress, but despite their differences, they share a similar vintage and musical sensibility. However, with her generous anecdotes and infectious cackle, Prince seemed more at ease in the intimate, cabaret environment. In comparison, her co-star appeared exposed without a script and costume. Warlow’s patter and jokes were clunky, but in some ways, this was endearing and sincere next to Prince’s well-oiled performance.

In their first tour destination, the show seemed decidedly unrehearsed. Not only was blocking clumsy, but also characterisations and accents. In parts, Warlow was visibly reliant upon prompts from the Musical Director and his co-star (especially during an otherwise slick impersonation skit), and, despite the use of both head and handheld microphones, lighting and sound cues were also clumsy.

Warlow and Prince are clearly smitten with each other. They embraced, laughed, kissed and shared stories. Of course this friendship is the crux of the show, but at times it became too lovey-dovey and a little naff. Regardless, the audience lapped up the cheese, the shtick and the pair’s spectacular voices. This is a creative partnership that should definitely excite the music theatre community.

Direct From Broadway is touring until July 5.