Original London Cast, 2013 (Watertower Music) (1 / 5) The first stage iteration of Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman’s musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s children’s novel preserves only one of Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley’s songs from the film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory — “Pure Imagination” — but the entire album seems to hold its breath until that track arrives very late in the proceedings. Nothing else in the new score sounds anything like it, and Shaiman and Wittman fail to crack the code on converting the episodic structure of Dahl’s book to musical theater form. Jack Costello’s Charlie is charming in the opening number, “Almost Nearly Perfect,” but the other four kids who win a tour of Willy Wonka’s factory are as madly annoying as they’re meant to be, resulting in a quartet of bad songs introducing each child in the first act and a quartet of worse songs getting rid of each child in the second. Shaiman writes music in different styles for the four families — a polka for the Gloops, an English patter song for the Salts, a poppy rap for the Beauregardes, and electronic cacophony for the Teavees — so the score never gets a chance to advance beyond Russian Roulette-style genre-jumping. Nor does the show comfortably translate Dahl’s self-aware rudeness for a contemporary audience. Augustus Gloop’s fat-shaming yodel is cringe-worthy, but the lyrics for “Vidiots,” the Oompa Loompas’ condemnation of kids who play video games, are the album’s nadir: “Alas, alas, poor Mike Teavee / For OMG, he’s ADD.” (Credit Iris Roberts for making a strong, frantic impression as Mike’s harried mother.) The songs for Wonka (Douglas Hodge) are insubstantial, too, until he finally arrives at “Pure Imagination” and listeners can breathe a sigh of relief. — Dan Rubins
Original Broadway Cast, 2017 (Masterworks) (2 / 5) This Broadway recording is a marked improvement over the London cast album, not least for the reintroduction of most of the songs from the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory: “Candy Man,” “I’ve Got A Golden Ticket,” and “Oompa Loompa” all join “Pure Imagination.” Christian Borle has greater range than Douglas Hodge as Willy Wonka, and his opening rendition of “The Candy Man” sets a clearer tone for the character. The album generously rotates through the three young actors who played Charlie on Broadway, with Jake Ryan Flynn making a particularly terrific impression in a new, joyous waltz, “Willy Wonka! Willy Wonka!” and also in “The View From Here,” a sweet ballad with rousing counterpoint. Most of the other kids’ songs, including the deadly “Vidiots,” remain in some form; but a major casting change, with adults playing all the children except Charlie, makes the show’s added cruelties towards these characters somewhat more tolerable. That said, a notorious scene from this production, in which squirrels tear Veruca Salt (now inexplicably Russian) to pieces, is commemorated on the album in “Veruca’s Nutcracker Sweet,” which contains tasteless couplets such as “Veruca Salt was once en pointe / But watch as we dislocate each joint.” On the plus side, Trista Dollison is especially good in “The Queen of Pop,” Violet’s intro song, which recalls Shaiman and Wittman’s far superior work for Hairspray. The new, discomfiting song “When Willy Meets Oompa” seems to double down on the Oompa Loompa plot line’s colonial undercurrents, but there’s enough inoffensive sweetness elsewhere — courtesy of the three Charlies, John Rubinstein’s Grandpa Joe, and Borle’s ballads — to make this a listenable album. — D.R.