Reviewer: Mark Clegg
When musicals transfer from one side of the Atlantic to the other (in either direction) it’s common for them to be slightly tweaked, often to make them more understandable or accessible for the new audience. However, in the case of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which ran for a pretty impressive three and a half years in London’s West End, its trans-Atlantic transfer was given a complete overhaul.
When the Broadway version was originally announced the most obvious difference was that the children (except for Charlie) would be played by adults. However, the producers had bigger ideas and by the time it reached The Great White Way it had been completely redesigned, been given a new director and had much of the score altered. Were these changes wise? Well, on the strength of this new cast recording the answer is (mostly) “no”.
The London show had an original score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman but also incorporated one song by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley from the famous 1971 movie version (Pure Imagination). This new version of the stage show not only includes several more songs from the film but also alters many more of the new songs so that less than half of this track list matches the London one. If you are familiar with the London cast album, it is impossible not to compare this recording with it and in almost every way, it falls short.
Ironically the London score was not without its problems but it did carry some good numbers several of which have now disappeared: the show-stopping Don’t Ya Pinch Me, Charlie has been replaced by the film’s I’ve Got a Golden Ticket which while familiar, lacks the exuberance of the original. Similarly, Violet Beauregarde’s The Double Bubble Duchess has been replaced with the newly-written and completely inferior The Queen of Pop. Equally strange directorial choices are also apparent here including the bizarre choice to make Veruca Salt and her father stereotypically humourless Russians: it just doesn’t seem right.
The very talented Christian Borle plays Wonka and while he is as good as ever, his interpretation of the character is much more traditionally musical theatre than Douglas Hodge’s closer-to-the-book enigmatic, deadpan crack-pot from the London production. This is immediately apparent as the show opens with Borle singing the film’s The Candy Man while he heavy-handedly explains to the audience his entire plan to find a successor, and his finale song has become the bland and sickly The View from Here: it’s difficult to imagine that Roald Dahl would approve such sugar-coating.
Likewise, Charlie’s innocent and sweet nature is replaced by a rather precocious American version played by either Jake Ryan Flynn, Ryan Foust or Ryan Sell (the liner notes do not make it clear which). In fact, while all the cast are acceptable in their roles, with the exception of the catchy and fun new When Willy Met Oompa, the whole soundtrack lacks the lightness and sense of fun required for the source material: it’s like wading through Wonka’s chocolate river.
For anyone unfamiliar with the London cast album, feel free to add another star to this review but if you have a choice between the two, go for the West End version – and if you already own that, avoid this like Augustus Gloop would avoid a salad.
Available from Sony Masterworks Broadway