2. “The Amazing Fantastical History of Mr Willy Wonka”
With Charlie introduced, it’s time for a little exposition about Willy Wonka. As in the book, the character is introduced by Charlie’s grandparents, who are great for comedy relief. One of the four, Grandpa Joe, has a special bond with Charlie, as evidence later in the narrative when Charlie has to choose who to take to the factory with him.
Overall, this song is a lot of fun, a musical narrative history in the vein of Otto Titsling – remember that fabulous number, from Beaches? The song kicks off with the joke of Charlie pretending never to have heard the stories of Willy Wonka (of course he has) and with his grandparents playing along. The sense of play that is the foundation of this little ritual doesn’t quite come across on the recording, with everything sounding a touch too sincere. This has less to do with the song itself – there’s a certain whimsy to the arrangement – than it has to do with the delivery, which needs to catch the tongue in cheek nature of the lyrics more deftly.
Where the song falters a little is in some of the lyrics. Because of the syncopated melody, the certain lyrics are accentuated a little oddly, which makes them difficult to work out even after several listens. When they are sung, lyrics have to be absolutely clear to the audience to communicate what’s going on onstage and the marriage of the lyric to the melody is of utmost importance in that regard. Sometimes the way that the melodic line forces wordplay onto the song also gets in the way of clear communication: ‘for Mr Willy Wonka / We all sing for he’s the king of them all’ and ‘now each nose with sense olfactory / thinks the fac’try’s satis-snack-tory’ are particular culprits here.
There are also some odd disagreements when it comes to singular and plural objects” there are ‘children’ with ‘rompers’ and ‘chompers’ who only have one ‘tongue’ and ‘wheezing geezers’ who become one ‘child’, both examples were idiomatic sense is sacrificed for rhyme.
Other slips include the image of people gathering around simply to smell Wonka’s sweets, but surely they come from far and wide for a taste of his confectioneries. The same image is repeated later in the song, when Georgina says she would commit a crime for just a ‘single whiff’ of a chocolate bar, but this time it is completely appropriate – a reaction from a specific woman who can’t afford to buy the chocolate, not a general crowd upon whose opinions Wonka’s fame has been built.
The centerpiece of this song is the tale of Prince Pondicherry and it is in these few minutes that this song really comes into its own, with Shaiman and Wittman offering up a pastiche the way that Hollywood and television of the 1960s used to musicalise the Middle and Central Eastern cultures musically. It’s probably not very politically correct, but taking into consideration these characters and their life experiences, its a good artistic call that feels like it was the right creative call. The number really shifts up a gear in this section, so much so that the odd slip in diction (such as ‘each’ instead of ‘every’) almost skates by unnoticed.
What this number gets across is how fantastic Willy Wonka must appear to everyone and just how extensive his fame is. With a little polish, it would be a first rate number.
MORE TO COME….