Caroline Dask sits down to have a chat with Alex Bourne, playing Oliver Warbucks in Annie, The Musical, coming to Sunderland Empire this October
Maybe you’ve seen the film, or maybe you’ve already seen the musical, one way or another – the name rings a bell. A musical that invites you into the heartwarming world of Annie, a young orphan with a heart full of hope. Set against the backdrop of 1930s New York City, Annie ventures into the world looking for her long-lost parents and along the way, befriends some of the most iconic characters. One of them is a multi-billionaire father figure – Oliver Warbucks.
Alex Bourne returns to Annie as Oliver Warbucks, having played the role both in the West End, Toronto and the UK Tour. His other theatre credits include Edna Turnblad in the UK Tour of Hairspray, Sam Carmichael in the UK Tour of Mamma Mia! and many others.
With a rich background in theatre, spanning over 30 years, Alex has been playing Oliver Warbucks, on and off, since 2015 and needless to say, knows the ins and outs of the character and the show.
A timeless musical, familiar and nostalgic to so many of us, is playing at Sunderland Empire from 2-7 October, bringing an important message of hope, resilience and optimism in times when we need it the most.
We catch up with Alex about his character, the iconic music, and the historical context of the musical.
How do you plan to bring your own interpretation of Oliver Warbucks and what drew you to this role?
It feels such a long time that I auditioned for the role, so getting in and out of character is like second nature to me. From the very beginning, I brought a lot of myself into that role, which is ironic because the character I play is a multi-billionaire businessman, and I’m not the richest man in the world, but that’s one thing about putting a costume on before you go on stage. It helps you get into the character.
Annie has been a beloved classic for decades now. How do you feel stepping into such an iconic role and what preparations have you undertaken to justify the character?
I’ve always been a big fan of the original film, but when I first stepped into the role, I was quite young, so people thought I was young Warbucks!
Now, I’m getting older, I’m probably more at the right age for it, to be honest. But from the very beginning, it has been great to play this character. Over the years, we had different cast members, so the show is always very different, but when we first started, I remember thinking: ‘this is one of the best shows ever’. So because I had the chance to explore the world of Annie over numerous years, I feel like it’s very easy for me to step into Oliver Warbucks’ shoes.
Are there any similarities or differences between you and the character you play?
I couldn’t be more different! For starters, Oliver is bald and I’m very not bald. But I have to shave my head every day for the role, so I think that’s the only similarity between Oliver and me.
I think from the very beginning, back when the show began in a newspaper, around the 1930s in Chicago, there was a syndicated cartoon strip of a ginger girl, a dog and a bald man, and I think that now, this is who people see when they think about Oliver Warbucks – a bald man!
But I’m always happy to shave my head, and as soon as I do, I feel like that’s the main thing that puts me into the character.
Annie The Musical is set during the Great Depression. How do you envision bringing that historical context into the performance and making it relevant for today’s audiences?
I think it’s just one of those things that you can’t believe it happened, but it’s an important part of history. We always get the younger cast members to look up the facts, make collages and mood boards in relation to this time period.
What happened during that time was tragic and all we can do is to not disregard it, and pretend it never happened. It’s important to keep it alive even in shows such as Annie, all in an effort to learn from the past.
Music is such a big element of Annie The Musical. Do you have a favourite song that you’re always excited to perform?
Yes! I really love the first song of the show, it’s performed by Annie and it’s called ‘Maybe’. Then of course, “It’s The Hard-Knock Life’, which a very famous song. The musical has no doubt one of the finest songs, and I think with each act the songs become better and better.
In act two, I sing a solo song to Annie, which is not in the original film, but it’s a beautiful song called ‘Something Was Missing’. I love the message behind it, that although Oliver had everything – all his money and success, yet there was still something missing in his life. And that was Annie.
What do you hope that the audience takes away from your character and the overall production in general?
No doubt, Annie’s optimism. Despite everything that she has gone through, it’s her soul of hope and optimism that is magical, and I think everyone should aspire to have that.
Annie The Musical is on at Sunderland Empire from 2 October until 7 October, grab your tickets here