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Broadway's 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' includes a little local flavor

It's a magical world for Ryan Sell, who has landed his golden ticket to Broadway.

After months of rehearsals in the Big Apple, the 11-year-old from New Port Richey is stepping into the spotlight with a lead role in the new musical adaptation of Roald Dahl's bestselling novel, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

For those who haven't read the book or seen the two movies, the story follows the adventures — and sometimes misadventures — of a handful of children who, after finding a golden ticket tucked in a chocolate bar wrapper, are awarded a tour of the mysterious candy factory owned by the eccentric Willie Wonka.

Sell, who will be performing at Broadway's Lunt-Fontanne Theatre alongside Tony Award winners Christian Borle (as Willie Wonka) and John Rubinstein (as Grampa Joe), is one of three actors to share the role of the title character, Charlie Bucket. Ryan Foust of Tampa and Jake Ryan Flynn, who lives north of Boston, also will take turns on stage in the production, which officially opens April 23.

In between a busy schedule that includes eight-hour rehearsals six days a week and school work, the three gathered for a FaceTime interview just 12 days before the show's soft opening, which took place Tuesday night.

"It's awesome — unbelievable," a wide-eyed Sell said of his New York experience. "It's like you're walking into a candy dream."

"Every time we walk into the theater, it's like a dream come true," said Foust, 12.

"It's very exciting," said Flynn, 10, adding, "It's always been my dream to be on Broadway."

While they play the title character, each brings his own experiences to the role.

For Sell, who has been immersed in theater throughout his short life, it's another step up in the family business.

His parents, Chris and Shanna Sell, are the owners of Sell's Broadway Dance Company in New Port Richey. They performed together in the Broadway musical Cats, with the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes and toured throughout the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia while performing in numerous Broadway musicals.

Ryan Sell's theatrical debut was playing Chip in a Mitchell High School production of Beauty and the Beast. He has also performed in regional productions of Mame and Peter Pan. His two sisters also perform regionally.

Foust, who attends Corbett Preparatory School in Tampa, has performed in productions of Beauty and the Beast, Annie for Kids, Peter Pan and Cats.

For his part, Jake Ryan Flynn, 10, earned some hometown notoriety performing with the North Shore Music Theatre Company in Beverly, Mass., in productions of Singing in the Rain, Mary Poppins, Billy Elliot, Shrek and A Christmas Carol, as well as in a television commercial alongside New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

While those are impressive credits at such young ages, nothing compares to the honor of co-creating the role of Charlie Bucket on Broadway.

To help prepare, the boys read Dahl's book and watched both of the adapted movie versions — Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory featuring Gene Wilder and Johnny Depp as Wonka, respectively.

The theatrical version is a good mix of both movies and the book, Sell said, giving a nod to the show's multi-award-winning lyricists, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (Hairspray, Smash).

"I love the music. Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman are brilliant," Sell said. "It's amazing that it took them eight years to be here now. But here we are."

Performing alongside Christian Borle is a definite pinch-yourself kind of experience as well.

"He brings a lot of humor to the show," said Sell. "I've definitely become a better actor being able to watch him sing and act. It's magical."

"Its cool to be working with a two-time Tony winner and so fun to learn from him," Foust said.

Sell, who counts Finding Neverland and Something Rotten as favorite musicals, said Charlie is well on its way to edging them out and is worth a trek to New York.

"It's family friendly. It's hilarious," he said. "Come see the show!"

Contact Michele Miller at mmiller@tampabay.com. Follow @MicheleMiller52.

Broadway's 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' includes a little local flavor 03/29/17 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 29, 2017 4:39pm]
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