That’s Our Zhivago

Dr Zhivago is currently’s featured show. We spoke with Anthony Warlow about his experiences in the world premiere of this exciting new musical.

Anthony Warlow as Dr Zhivago
Anthony Warlow as Dr Zhivago. Image by Blueprint Studios

Anthony Warlow, Australia’s quintessential leading man is one of our country’s greatest assets in the Arts world. Not only has he become a household name for his portrayal of leading roles in The Phantom of The Opera, The Man of La Mancha, The Secret Garden, Annie, Guys and Dolls, Les Miserables and many more, Warlow is the sole reason Australia was blessed with the world premiere of Dr. Zhivago.

Composer Lucy Simon, sister of American singer/songwriter Carly Simon, saw Warlow perform the role oftroubled hunchback Archibald Craven in another of her musicals – The Secret Garden – back in 1995, and it was his performance in this show more than 15 years ago which set the wheels of Zhivagoin motion.

“We were in Brisbane, for the opening of Secret Garden, and Lucy [Simon] came to opening night. She came backstage to my dressing room after the show with our producer, John Frost, and literally just said ‘you are my Zhivago’,” Warlow said.

And that, as they say, was that.  As the story goes, Simon held her musical torch for nearly 15 years, until producer John Frost and Warlow were in New York several years ago

“Fortuitous” is the word Warlow used to describe the series of events which lead himself, Frost and American producer Anita Waxman to Lucy Simon’s New York apartment to hear the first musical snippets of Dr. Zhivago.

“She did a pitch, played some musical sketches that she had written and when we left the apartment and I couldn’t stop whitsling those tunes”, he said.

Warlow explained that despite needing a few days to consider committing to the project, he knew that it could be an important piece of music theatre. Two or three days later, he was on board, and Dr. Zhivago began a journey down under.

Creating the role of Yuri Zhivago earlier this year was unlike anything Warlow had ever known, as the rehearsal process was peppered with script changes, lyric changes, and musical edits left right and centre.

“While I have been in the past a ‘glorified cover artist’, putting my singnature on roles which have already been performed by people, this was a totally new experience for me”, he said.

With scripts being re-written daily, songs edited in every run and several cast changes early on in the rehearsal schedule, Warlow enthusiastically described the process as a “a terrific challenge from the word go”.

“One thing that was a little daunting for most people was that we would have not only the director Des McAnuff, the choreographer [Kelly Devine], Eric Stern [musical supervisor] and and sometimes Lucy Simon in the room, but also their friends, colleagues and inverstors. So when we would do a run of a scene or two that was being work-shopped, we would have a panel of maybe 30 people watching” he explained.

So much for a cloistered rehearsal environment, where actors and director can fine tune the work, make mistakes and prepare for an audience! The cast of Dr. Zhivago were at performance level at all times throughout the process, but Warlow insists it prepared the cast for their premiere season.

“It helped build stamina, so that was worthwhile”, he said.  While sometimes stressful, the challenge of creating a blue print for a new show allows no time for fear or second thought, and Warlow took it all in his stride:

Anthony Warlow and Lucy Maunder
Anthony Warlow and Lucy Maunder. Image by Blueprint Studios

“One of the greatest things I have learned in this industry is to be able to make a fool of yourself in rehearsals. Just ‘do it’ and wonderful things will come out of it. People in the cast were having things cut and things added to their characters later down the track. It was a very interesting process. I know this is the norm for new works, but in this country we just don’t get to do that!”

“My script looked like a rainbow, because every new change would be printed on a different coloured piece of paper. So the script looks like a pretty rainbow book”, he jokes.

Currently playing at QPAC in Brisbane, Dr. Zhivago has enjoyed two successful seasons in Sydney and Melbourne this year. Over the past few months, Warlow says he has grown extremely fond of one particular moment in Yuri Zhivago’s journey.

“For me, the ’11 o’clock number’, which is not really a number it’s a scene, between Pasha and Zhivago at the end of the night is my favourite moment in the show.”

“The script is wonderful, the collaboraton between Martin [Crewes] and myself just works really well. Once I finish [the song]  ‘Time’ I look forward to the scence to finish my show. I finish on an emotional low, but a high at the same time” When asked about the show’s future, Warlow is quick to mention the international interest which has been shown thus far.

“I have heard that the international powers-that-be have made the journey to Australia and that says that there is certainly an interest in the show” he said.

He also told that a London producer, who loved the show, is currently working to secure a theatre on the West End for its international debut.

“It may be a year away, it may be 18 months away, and the show may change physically and vocally’, he said. “It still has, I think, some flaws in it, which will be ironed out if the show has a life after Australia”.

Fans of the show were disappointed to hear recently that the planned Original Australian Cast Recording was not going ahead. The on-again-off-again recording saga was to be produced by Warlow as a live album ‘off the stage’. The initial plan was to record several performances and take the ‘best of’ for the album. Unfortunately, as Warlow explains, due to illness in the cast and time limitations, the devastating decision was made not to produce the album.

“Time restraints made it virtually impossible. As we had only a limited time in each state, we really would have had to record it in Sydney when we started, and it wasn’t even on the cards then because it was so new.”

“If there is a recording, it will probably be the London cast”, he said. asked the question to which Dr. Zhivago fans are itching to know the answer: Can we expect to see ‘Our Zhivago’ take to the stage again in this role at some point in the future? “If the London production goes ahead, I have been invited to go along and repreise the role”, he humbly replied.  Finally, answering’s signature question: “Who’s your show crush?”, Warlow chuckles and says, without hesitation:

“Oh, well, now I have three!” – Oh really? Do tell, Anthony!

“Lara [Zhivago’s the romantic interest played by Lucy Maunder], Tonia [Zhivago’s wife, played by Taneel Van Zyl] and Anna [Zhivago’s mother, played by Trisha Noble] – they are all fabulous!”

Dr Zhivago is playing at QPAC, Brisbane Visit
Bookings: 136 246 or visit 

Clue 4

The next clue can be found on the Blueprint Studios Facebook page. Make sure you “like” the page on the way through!

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Erin James

Erin James is's former Editor in Chief and a performer on both stage and screen. Credits include My Fair Lady, South Pacific and The King and I (Opera Australia), Love Never Dies and Cats (Really Useful Group), Blood Brothers (Enda Markey Presents), A Place To Call Home (Foxtel/Channel 7) and the feature film The Little Death (written and directed by Josh Lawson).

Erin James

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