Christian Borle to Play Willy Wonka on Broadway

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Christian Borle

The two-time Tony winner will star in the new Roald Dahl musical, 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,' beginning performances next March at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre.

Christian Borle clearly doesn't like being unemployed. The two-time Tony Award winner, known to TV audiences for his role on NBC's musical drama Smash, already has his next two Broadway gigs lined up.

After wrapping his yearlong run at the St. James Theatre this summer as the preening rock star Shakespeare in Something Rotten!, Borle will jump four blocks to the Walter Kerr Theatre to co-star with Andrew Rannells in the limited-engagement fall revival of Falsettos, beginning performances Sept. 29. In spring 2017, Borle will then double back two blocks to play the lead role of Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre.

That musical adaptation of the classic Roald Dahl children's novel begins previews next March, with exact dates to be set. Additional cast also is to be announced.

As previously reported, Jack O'Brien will direct the production, with choreography by another Smash alum, Joshua Bergasse. The musical's score is by the Hairspray team of composer Marc Shaiman and co-lyricist Scott Wittman, with a book adaptation by Scottish playwright David Greig. The show's design team also has been announced, with sets and costumes by Mark Thompson, puppet design by Basil Twist and lighting by Japhy Weideman.

O'Brien, whose three Tonys for direction include one for Hairspray, will significantly retool the staging for the Broadway run, departing from the show's London production, which opened in June 2013 and is set to close next January after being seen by more than 1.8 million people. That staging was directed by Sam Mendes, who dropped out of Broadway plans for the project in December last year due to scheduling conflicts. Douglas Hodge originated the role of Willy Wonka in London.

Mendes remains on board as a producer through his Neal Street Productions banner, which teams with Warner Bros. Theatre Ventures and Langley Park Productions on the show.

Published in 1964, Dahl's novel follows a boy named Charlie Bucket, who lives in poverty, as he wins one of five golden tickets to visit the chocolate factory of the title. There he encounters the eccentric owner and his workforce, the Oompa Loompas, themselves rescued from poverty, and ultimately discovers that Willy Wonka's contest has a greater purpose.

The story was further popularized in a 1971 movie musical starring Gene Wilder, titled Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Tim Burton directed a remake of the film in 2005 under the book's original title, starring Johnny Depp. The new stage musical will incorporate songs from the Wilder version by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, including "Pure Imagination."

Borle won his first Tony Award for featured actor in a play in 2012 for Peter and the Starcatcher, following last year with another win in the equivalent musical category for Something Rotten! His other Broadway credits include Monty Python's Spamalot, Legally Blonde and Mary Poppins.

"Christian was the first — and in truth, perhaps the only person I could imagine to create the role of Willy," said O'Brien in a statement. "His combination of child-like fantasy, edge, mystery and sheer star power seemed destined for this role."

Securing the Lunt-Fontanne gives producers a prime address right near the heart of Times Square for the big-budget production for what they clearly hope will be a long run. The theater became available thanks to the August closing notice, announced last week, of the Harvey Weinstein-produced Finding Neverland.

Broadway's other musical based on a popular Dahl novel, Matilda, is scheduled to close at the Shubert Theatre in January after a successful four-year run. That production has grossed $168 million to date. While the next tenant at the Shubert has not yet been announced, the rumor mill has the 2017 revival of Hello, Dolly, starring Bette Midler, heading there in the spring.