CD REVIEW: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews at:

Book: David Greig

Music: Marc Shaiman

Lyrics: Scott Wittman & Marc Shaiman

The Public Reviews Rating: ★★★½☆

Arriving in the West End eagerly awaited and shrouded in as much mystery as the enigmatic Willie Wonka himself, David Greig, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman’s adaptation of the Roald Dahl classicCharlie and the Chocolate Factory  now comes to us immortalised in this original cast recording. But as with any cast recording, there are a few big questions to be answered here: how successfully does it work as a stand-alone recording? And how does it fare without the support of the stunning visuals from the stage production?

There are 27 tracks here, including the linking dialogue, which paint a pretty comprehensive picture of the show, and to their credit American writers Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman have managed to create an atmospheric piece of work. The quality of the recording and the skill of the performers are in no question either, and the recording allows the subtle and incredibly clever lyrics to be heard clearly. Like that other Roald Dahl stage adaptation Matilda, it includes some sharp, witty and resonant observations of society in the 21st century. But the CD suffers from the same problems as the stage show: a first half largely comprised of scene setting and story build up, and a succession of somewhat one-note songs, alleviated only by the introduction of the Golden Ticket winners, most notable among them young Jade Johnson as the vivid Violet Beauregarde and whilst the other kids fare well onstage, the songs suffer without the accompanying visuals.

Just as in the stage production, the recording only comes to life with the arrival of Willie Wonka (Douglas Hodge). Hodge is a performer of rare quality and his evocative voice conjures up the perfect balance of benevolence and malice, particularly in “It Must be Believed to be Seen” which transmits well to the recording, evoking as much a sense of wonder as it does trepidation. And while there are some other gems: “It’s Teavee Time” and “Juicy” to name a few, ultimately it lacks a certain something that would elevate it into the realms of the blockbuster. It’s also a damning indictment of the whole endeavour that the most memorable and indeed evocative song in the whole show is the one that wasn’t written by Shaiman and Wittman: ”Pure Imagination” is the sole survivor from the 1971 Warner Brothers movie, a song that remains unmatched by anything else in the show.

This is a recording of undeniable quality and a welcome souvenir of the show, but it’s the material that ultimately lets the highly talented performers down.