Must-See Family Musicals Bound for Broadway Include Willy Wonka

By the end of the year, five of our top 10 Broadway shows for kids will have closed, including longtime favorite Matilda. But the good news is, the family shows must go on!

This spring, a pair of highly anticipated new musicals based on beloved children's properties are heading to NYC: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, inspired by both Roald Dahl's iconic book and the classic 1971 flick; and Anastasia, based on the 1997 animated movie about a Russian orphan who may be royalty. Although performances for both productions don't start until March, tickets already are on sale and make for amazing experiential holiday gifts the whole family can enjoy (even you, mom and dad).

We've got the scoop on these two kid-centric tuners and why they should make your 2017 bucket list.

Your little diva is sure to love Anastasia, set in the 1920s and led by a fierce female lead with a powerful voice. Photo by Joan Marcus/courtesy the Hartford Stage production.

Direct from a well-reviewed pre-Broadway tryout at Hartford Stage comes Anastasia about Anya, a spirited young amnesiac who wants to find out who she is. Is she just a commoner or the long-lost daughter of the late Czar Nicholas II, heir to a fortune?

The show is based on the popular 1997 animated movie of the same name (inspired by the legend of Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia) and features six of that flick's songs, including the Oscar-nominated "Journey to the Past." The new tunes are by the same team that penned the movie's songs: Tony Award winners Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, best known for their musicals Ragtime and Seussical.

And the story—which has been greatly changed from the film, and is packed with intrigue, con men, a love triangle, and lavish locales in Russia and Paris—is by Tony winner Terrence McNally. Plus it's directed by Tony winner Darko Tresnjak, so it's got quite the theater pedigree.

There's fantastic buzz about Christy Altomare, who originated the role of Anya out of town and now is bringing the show to Broadway. She's got one of those soaring, pop-belt voices that aspiring divas love to imitate (think Idina Menzel), and a feisty, feminist vibe. Considering the complicated plot, mature themes such as romance, revolution, and identity, and the 2½-hour running time, Anastasia is recommended for children ages 7 and older. (Children younger than 4 are not permitted in the theater.) If your kids love musicals featuring strong female characters such as Wicked and Matilda, Anastasia should be just the ticket.

I doubt I need to sell you on the scrumdiddlyumptious idea of a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory stage musical—kids should eat it up like, well, candy. But adults may, too.

While the musical has been a huge hit in London for the past few years, the Broadway incarnation is rumored to be significantly retooled, with classic numbers such as "Pure Imagination" from the 1971 Gene Wilder movie added to complement the new tunes by Tony-winning Hairspray songwriters Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman. But the greatest coup is who's playing Willy Wonka: Christian Borle, whose hilarious, over-the-top turns in Peter and the Starcatcher and Something Rotten! snagged him two well-deserved Tony Awards.

I've been a fan of Borle's ever since he did that unforgettable eBay commercial more than a decade ago. He has just the right combination of impishness, unpredictability, and lovableness to pull off the character. Plus he's a master of slapstick with a rousing tenor. The rest of the cast has yet to be announced, but there surely will be plenty of children (kids love watching their peers on stage), plus colorful eye-popping sets and a Tony-winning director, Jack O'Brien, to boot. May I quote Veruca Salt and say, "I want it now!!!!" Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is recommended for children ages 6 and older. Again, no one younger than 4 is allowed in the theater.

Tickets already are on sale online for both shows (the box offices don't open until 2017). No discounts currently are available, but come February be sure to check and for possible codes.

Anastasia begins performances at the Broadhurst Theatre on Thursday, March 23; tickets run $69-$159. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory begins performances at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on Tuesday, March 28; tickets run $69-$150.

Top image: Anastasia from the Hartford Stage production. Photo by Joan Marcus/courtesy of the production.

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