ALEX BOURNE is playing Daddy Warbucks in the West End production of Annie which opens at the Piccadilly Theatre this week, with opening night on 5 June.
Bourne knows the role of Warbucks well after touring with the show across the UK during 2015/16.
His other theatre credits include: Mamma Mia! and The Rocky Horror Show on tour in the UK, Midsummer Songs at the New Wolsey Theatre, Kiss Me, Kate for the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, The Witches of Eastwick at the Watermill Theatre, We Will Rock You and Beauty and the Beast at the Dominion Theatre, Chicago at the Adelphi Theatre, Grease at the Cambridge Theatre, and Show Boat for the Royal Shakespeare Company and Opera North.
Alex is in conversation below with Musical Theatre Review contributor Tal Fox.
They say don’t work with animals or children, but you’re doing both! How is that going?
Maybe in the old days it was a nightmare working with children, but the kids in this show are just off the scale. They’re like mini adults, it’s incredible how quickly they pick everything up. They make the show and Amber – our 3-year-old labradoodle that plays Sandy – is just a big old softie really. She’s absolutely adorable, everyone loves her and makes a fuss of her, she’s great. So yeah, one dog and a bunch of kids – what could be better?
Annie is extremely well known – what’s your favourite scene and why?
Every bit I do has got something about it I love. Any part working with Annie, which is most of the time. There’s a song I sing in Act II called ‘Something Was Missing’ where Warbucks realises that he’s spent his whole life just building up his empire and making multi, multi-billions, but hasn’t really had much time for love in any way.
He is an orphan himself, people don’t realise that, but he tells Annie at the beginning that his parents died before he was ten, so he had to make it on his own from a very young age. And he’d just got on a roll with that. So he’s realising that there’s more to life than that, and something is missing in his life which turns out to be her.
It’s a beautiful song and we do this beautiful waltz. The set is great, the lighting, the orchestra is great. It’s a magical little moment. I’ve got a ten year old daughter myself, so I imagine myself dancing with my kid. It’s very emotional for me that bit, I love that.
Parents who were little kids when Annie was first staged are probably going to bring their children to see the show – do you think it will speak to kids today the same way it did back then?
I think it definitely will. Also, there will be kids today who have seen the 2014 film with Jamie Foxx playing Warbucks. They rearranged the songs a little for the movie and did a slightly different version, but the story was the same.
I think that makes people want to watch the old film. Disney released a made-for-movie in 1999, and it’s great, it’s got all the songs from the show and it’s got a similar script. But I think every decade something comes along for every generation, and now we’re the version that all the kids today are going to go and watch. Let’s hope it has a wonderful effect on them as well.
Should Annie fans expect any surprises in the show?
It’s still the same script and the same story, but it’s just been slightly re-imagined. The set Colin Richmond has designed is just stunning, and the lighting and sound are very modern and exciting – what you can do with lighting nowadays is just incredible.
We’re in quite an intimate space at the Piccadilly Theatre and so they make it very real. Nikolai Foster, the director, wants it all to be very truthful – without any of the schmaltz or sickly sweet bits – and we’re all just trying to tell a truthful story.
On the tour that we did, we tried to keep it as truthful as we could, and hopefully people will see a more emotional version of Annie. Also the kids are just so talented, they are triple threats – they can do it all. It’s an incredible standard and what Nick Winston gets them to do in the choreography is just amazing as well. It’s going to blow people’s socks off!
Tell us a bit about your co-stars…
We have three Annies, we’ve got Ruby Stokes, Madeleine Haynes and Lola Moxom, and they’ve all done other shows before. There’s three sets of orphans, each Annie has her own six orphans. For some, this is their first job, but a lot of them have done other things before – they’ve all got better CVs than some of the adults in the show! They’re amazing.
Then there’s Grace Farrell, my secretary. Warbucks doesn’t realise he has the ability to love, but he loves Annie, and then he realises he loves Grace. She is played by the wonderful Holly Dale Spencer. We went on the tour together, and we’ve also known each other for years. It’s great when you turn up and you have to portray a romantic relationship with someone you know – I think we do a lovely job there.
Of course, we’ve got Miranda Hart who is playing Miss Hannigan and she just has us all in stitches. She really is a super funny lady, but also a wonderful actress, and who knew that she could sing and dance as well!
Can you describe a day in rehearsals?
We always start off with a physical warm-up. Heather Scott-Martin is the dance captain, and she gets everyone up, and it’s a high energy few minutes of dancing about and stretching and getting everything going so that we don’t get any injuries.
All the kids go to the front and ‘old people’ are at the back, so I’m at the back! After that we do a vocal warm-up for 15 minutes, and then we start ploughing through stuff. Of course, we have had to do everything three times because we’ve got three sets of kids and three Annies. They have schooling so they need to be released on certain days or weeks, so it’s a scheduling nightmare I think. Somehow they sort it out so it’s a smooth process.
Is there a divide between the adults and kids?
Not at all, they’re such a big part of the show, and you get to know them really well. We get to spend a lot of time with the kids. In other shows they come on, they do their bit, and they’re whisked away, so you don’t see the kids. But we’ve got to know them all individually, and their parents as well, who come to pick them up. It just makes it so much better. They’re so important, they are the show. They’re all so talented that they’re all going to become huge stars, so I’ll be able to say I got to work with them when they were 12.
What should we expect from Mr Warbucks?
He’s fairly tall because I’m tall! He’s bald, I had to shave off my hair. The original character in the cartoon strip is a bald man so you’d expect to see that, so I’ve whisked off my silver locks again for the production. As soon as I shave my hair, I just feel a certain way, and when I put the costume on I feel all-powerful – he’s a very powerful man in the show. As soon as I get my suit on and my hair’s gone, there’s just something about that.
At the beginning, he hasn’t got time for Annie, he’s only invited an orphan to stay because it would be a good publicity stunt. It’s coming up to Christmas, and because of the American financial system at the time, he’s got banks everywhere closing after the crash in 1929. So he’s thinking: ‘Oh, I’ll adopt an orphan for a couple of weeks and everyone will think I’m brilliant and it will help.” So originally he does it for publicity.
Albert Finney, who played Warbucks in the 1982 film, was younger than me, but a number of others have been in their mid-40s, which is where I think he should be. He’s spent 25 years building up his empire, and then he has realised that he’s spent so long focusing on making money, that he has forgotten to love – it’s Annie that brings that out in him.
I think sometimes over the years Warbucks has been quite old. Grace is quite young, and if he’s an old billionaire, it’s quite weird. Holly, who plays Grace, and I make a nice match, and we develop that a lot in the production. To create that family, we become Annie’s adopted parents at the end, and she’s got the family that she always wanted.
If you could pick any other character in the show, regardless of sex or age, who would you want to play?
When we did this originally, Craig Revel Horward [of Strictly Come Dancing fame] played Miss Hannigan, and I always thought it would be quite interesting if we split the week, so he’d play Warbucks for four shows and I’d play Hannigan for four shows.
He was just such a wonderful woman, it would be more of a challenge to play a woman. He didn’t camp up or drag out, he played it straight down the line, and he did a wonderful job of that.
Also Rooster, the baddie and Miss Hannigan’s brother. Rooster and his girlfriend Lily turn up, and he’s been in prison for the last six months, and they hatch a plan to pretend to be Annie’s real parents to get the reward that Warbucks is offering. Playing the baddie is always a fun thing to do, so I guess Rooster or Hannigan.
Other than Annie, what would be your dream musical to add to your CV?
Obviously Annie is my absolute dream musical, it’s been a dream bringing it to London, I am the happiest man in the world right now.
A great baritone singing role, like Mack from Mack & Mabel, would be a great thing. I like the old-fashioned musicals, things that suit my voice. I have done We Will Rock You as well, so I must be able to bang out a rock tune, but I think we’ll go with Mack & Mabel for now.
* Annie has a book by Thomas Meehan adapted from the comic strip Little Orphan Annie, music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Martin Charnin. The West End production has sets and costumes designed by Colin Richmond, choreography by Nick Winston, lighting by Ben Cracknell, sound design by Richard Brooker and orchestration and musical direction by George Dyer. The production, directed by Nikolai Foster, is produced by Michael Harrison and David Ian.
Tickets for Annie at the Piccadilly Theatre are available HERE.
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