CD Review: CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (Original Broadway Cast)

by Tony Frankel on June 14, 2017

in CD-DVD

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FREE WILLY

Imagine if cast recordings from the fifties and sixties recorded out-of-town tryouts, then changed material, then recorded the Broadway production, then changed material, then opened in London, then… well, you get the picture, or rather the sound. It gets frustrating these days when a show like Charlie and the Charlie Factory, which opened 4/23/17 to mixed reviews on Broadway after over three-and-a-half years in London, doesn’t just drop a song here or add a tune there, it gets a complete overhaul — and now each show is out on CD. Both albums have strengths and flaws, so it’s frustrating because we are left with not one but two imperfect shows (dontcha worry about that: Charlie is going on a U.S. National Tour regardless of reviews or whether or not it runs for long in New York; and the tour will be cheaper for producers because adults are now playing all of the kids’ roles, except Charlie, naturally).

Still, the original cast album from Masterworks (available digitally; out on CD June 23) is surprisingly refreshing. First on my mind are Scott Wittman and composer Marc Shaiman’s lyrics: It is becoming more and more commonplace to have imperfect lyrics in the theater, thanks to a four-decade love affair with rap and hip-hop, but not only are imperfect rhymes lazy, they don’t penetrate the ear easily when hearing them for the first time. Here, the rhymes are perfect throughout.

I also love Christian Borle (the everlasting gobstopper of Broadway leading roles), who plays Willy Wonka with all the sweet razzmatazz of Broadway’s Golden Era; this may be different then the enigmatic, poker-faced, eccentric that Roald Dahl created (made indelible by Gene Wilder in the film, from which too few songs have been plucked for Broadway, including “Pure Imagination” and “The Candy Man”), but he’s a joy to listen to, evidenced in the most shadowy and theatrical song in the show, “It Must Be Believed to Be Seen.” (Although it seems strange that the show opens with candy-man Wonka telling us he plans on giving away his factory—where’s the surprise?) For out-and-out fun, my favorite track on the CD is a bonus: Borle’s demo of “When Willy Met Oompa.”

Also amazing to me is that the Wittman/Shaiman team offers many songs that — while they don’t develop character or lodge in the brain like Hairspray did — are pleasant and agreeable, and I always appreciate a blend of satire and sentiment. After so many OBCs from the past ten years where you wouldn’t think of putting on the CD more than once, I have heard Charlie three times, and it fairly flies by. A fetching Ryan Foust makes the ‘I Want’ song, “A Letter from Charlie Bucket,” a winner (at least I think it’s Foust; there are three actors alternating as Charlie, and the CD is unclear as to who was recorded).

But sadly, this album simply doesn’t soar into the heavens like Willy’s magic elevator. As if to make up for a lack of vision (why overhaul a successful show from London? one wonders), there’s a feeling of trying too hard to be cute and whimsical, and it comes off as silly; even the tender numbers, such as the mom’s lullaby “If Your Father Were Here,” needs more oompah loompa to resonate. It feels like a machine in which producers thought, how do we keep the attention of children? Let’s make it loud and brash here (“The Queen of Pop”) for no reason! Let’s slam sentimentality in their face (Willy begins and ends on a sugary note not befitting Dahl’s creation). Kids who have sat transfixed through The Wizard of Oz, The Sound of Music, and the original Willy Wonka film will tell you otherwise.

Broadway production photos by Joan Marcus

Charlie and the Charlie Factory
Masterworks Broadway
19 tracks (bonus on CD only) | 60:50 minutes
released June 2, 2017 (Digital) and June 23, 2017 (CD)
buy or stream at iTunes, Spotify, or Amazon
for more info, visit Masterworks Broadway

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