NEW YORK — It's five minutes before the start of "Finding Neverland" on Broadway and Anthony Warlow is wearing two pairs of pants.
They won't be on for long.
"When you do live theater, you spend most the time with your pants off," the Australian singer-actor says, putting the final touches on a white tie-and-tails costume in his dressing room at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre.
Warlow, 53, has a complex show ahead of him: He has nine full costume changes — one lasting a mere 54 seconds — while playing two roles, hence the extra set of pants. He's taken over from Kelsey Grammer in record time.
"It was like giving me a big Tetris puzzle that I had to fit into and knowing that Kelsey had made it his role," he says. "I loved what he was doing. I thought, 'God, he has literally big shoes to fill.'"
"Finding Neverland" is an adaptation from the 2004 whimsical film of the same name about a widow whose four young sons inspired J.M. Barrie to write the children's classic "Peter Pan."
Warlow is playing both the American theatrical producer Charles Frohman and a fearsome Captain Hook. He stars opposite ex-"Glee" star Matthew Morrison as Barrie.
For the next few hours, Warlow will be on the move — running on and off the stage, getting mustaches and wigs put on — all the while dodging huge pieces of furniture, smoke and glitter machines, a guy in a bear costume and a real dog.
A voice on the intercom warns: "Ladies and gentlemen, this is the places call."
"Right. Best it's going to get today," says Warlow as he hits the stairs to the stage.
Warlow, known Down Under as the thinking man's musical theater guy, is making his second Broadway appearance. He was last here in 2012 playing Daddy Warbucks in a revival of "Annie" — so working with dogs and kids isn't new.
But he's never replaced another actor before. And he's never had to cram lines and choreography and blocking in such a short amount of time.
"When push comes to shove, I think I am a relatively quick study. I didn't ever think I would be," he says. "Being the age I am, I thought, 'My brain cells aren't going to cope with this at all.' But, surprisingly, they did."
Kathleen E. Purvis, the production stage manager who has previously worked on "Wicked" and "Mary Poppins," coached Warlow on his cues, approach and timing.
"He was a little trepidatious at first because it was a new experience for him but he sort of gave everything up to the experience," she says. "He's really good. That helps."
Warlow made his debut with the Australian Opera at 19 and jumped to musical theater in 1985 with the London National Theatre's production of "Guys and Dolls." He went on to sing roles in "The Secret Garden," ''Man of La Mancha," ''My Fair Lady" and "The Phantom of the Opera."
Each time he's tried to make the character his own. "I'll always attempt to put a signature on anything I do," he says.
This time he's been reading Erik Larson's "Dead Wake" and learned that Frohman had a limp and walked with a cane. So he's gotten a cane and a limp. "I like to come from a place of reality if I can," he says.
It took Warlow just five days to get the roles under his belt.
He arrived at the theater on July 4 — a Saturday, still jet-lagged from his flight from Australia — and rehearsed until July 10. That afternoon, he practiced the whole show in costume with just a piano. That night, he went on for the first time.
"For the first five days of being onstage with other people, it was about negotiating my way through the show," he says. "The hardest thing is discovering your character in front of 1,500 people every night."
One of the hardest tasks is a four-minute sequence in which he goes from Frohman to Hook and back to Frohman. Glue is applied to his upper lip during one of the changes so a mustache can stick the next time he needs to be the pirate.
The best thing about being Hook? "I get to wear hair," he says, laughing.
Jaime Verazin, the show's assistant choreography and dance captain, was stunned by Warlow's energy and agility. She nicknamed him The Gazelle.
"A lot of people are sure of who they are, what they need to be and how it needs to happen. But he's just an open book ready for anything you have to give him," she says. "He goes for it and he's completely open."
After the final curtain, Warlow changes into street clothes to join the cast outside to sign autographs.
But not before a final flourish.
"Arrrrgh!" he screams in his best pirate voice as he opens the stage door and the crowd squeals in delight.
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits