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Ken Watanabe to Make Broadway Debut in ‘The King and I’

Ken Watanabe will take on the role made famous by Yul Brynner in “The King and I,” the long-brewing Broadway revival of the 1951 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical that will reunite helmer Bartlett Sher and star Kelli O’Hara in a 2015 production at Lincoln Center Theater.

The show marks the stage debut of Japanese actor Watanabe, known to U.S. filmgoers for roles in pics including “Inception,” “The Last Samurai” and this year’s “Godzilla.” In Japan, his stage credits include “Hamlet” and “The Lion in Winter.”

“King and I,” which has been known to be in the works at Lincoln Center for a few years now, re-teams Sher and O’Hara following their work together in stage projects including “The Light in the Piazza,” “South Pacific” and the recent “The Bridges of Madison County,” for which O’Hara earned her fifth Tony nom. The 2008 LCT revival of “South Pacific,” the last Rodgers and Hammerstein musical on which the duo collaborated, scored seven Tonys and ran for more than two years.

“King and I,”  made into a 1956 film that starred original Broadway topliner Brynner and Deborah Kerr, hasn’t been seen on the Main Stem since a 1996 revival toplined by Donna Murphy and Lou Diamond Phillips. The high profile of the enduring property, as well the prior success of the “South Pacific” team, looks to make this new “King and I” a major player on Broadway’s 2014-15 season slate.

Storyline, based on Margaret Landon’s novel “Anna and the King of Siam,” follows the romance that develops between the King of Siam (Watanabe) and the British schoolteacher (O’Hara) he’s brought over to tutor his wives and children.

The new revival of “King and I” will use the original choreography by Jerome Robbins alongside musical staging by Christopher Gattelli (“Newsies”). The production’s design team — Michael Yeargan (sets), Catherine Zuber (costumes), Donald Holder (lights) and Scott Lehrer (sound) — is made up of “South Pacific” alums who are all frequent collaborators of Sher’s.

The revival begins previews March 12 ahead of an April 16 opening at LCT’s Vivian Beaumont Theater.

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