How The Grinch Won ChristmasSection 4A, Entertainment News Monday, December 19th, 2011
EVEN BEFORE THE CURTAIN RISES, when the legendary voice of The Grinch booms out a warning to the audience (and, yes, all children) to not use cameras and to turn off their cell phones, it’s obvious that a fun evening is in store. That’s exactly what the 14th annual production of Dr. Seuss’How The Grinch Stole Christmas at The Old Globe provides. It’s a winner.
Other than a few clips and that catchy “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” tune, I had made it well into adulthood without experiencing this classic. I shouldn’t have waited so long. Since the book was published in 1957, you probably know the story, set in the mythical realm of Whoville. Town residents are called Whos and all have Who in their names. They love and glory in Christmas. The Grinch, not so much. In fact, he loathes it, and no one seems to know why except perhaps because he has a heart “two sizes too small.” A mysterious, rarely-seen green, furry creature who lives atop Mount Crumpit, The Grinch plots – with the help of his not-totally-willing dog Max – to “steal” Christmas from the town below, and worst of all, from its children, who he finds noisy and annoying. The story is told largely as a flashback through the eyes of an older Max.
The sets of Whoville and the mountains are a whimsical cross between confection and Dr. Seuss sketches. The exaggerated, bulging costumes are entertaining. The choreography, from the opening “Who Likes Christmas?” number, is crisp and precise. None of this is surprising, given that this production was first conceived and directed by the famed Jack O’Brien with original choreography by the renowned John Deluca.
The closest to a show-stopping number has a campy Grinch praising himself for being “One of a Kind.” He even gives hints of a variety of voices, from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Elvis. This is perhaps the supreme moment, among several, when the musical particularly has as much appeal to adults as children. While one won’t exit humming most of the songs, they work. The dialogue is lyrical and poetic; after all the creators had the words of Dr. Seuss with which to work.
Steve Blanchard as The Grinch and Steve Gunderson as Old Max, are convincingly strong in their roles. They only occasionally let down their guard to allow the audience to see they are very much having fun with their parts – and when they do, that’s part of the joy. The Grinch is a character who could lend himself to varying shades of interpretation. Blanchard’s wide Broadway experience serves him well. His Grinch is mean without being overly scary; conniving, but not totally heartless; villainous, yet not hopeless. The children are a delight, and as the old adage suggests when working with children, it’s young Remy Margaret Corbin as innocent Cindy-Lou Who, who steals the show. Her “Santa for a Day” sung to The Grinch pulls at the heart and doesn’t let go. Though an adult, Logan Lipton is very credible and charming as Young Max.
If there is any shortcoming to The Grinch, it’s that for us used to two-act musicals, it seems brief at just over an hour. Yet, the primary target is, after all, children, and the pre-teen part of the audience seemed fully engaged and having a wonderful time. No need to test attention spans. There are several humorous interactions between the characters, particularly The Grinch, and the audience. Even a couple more would be well-received and draw us even further into Whoville. Still, the play is marvelously effective in the intimate, warm setting of The Old Globe. It would definitely lose something in a large venue.
Dr. Seuss’How the Grinch Stole Christmas is at The Old Globe through Dec. 31. Ticket prices start at $39 for adults and $24 for children 17 and under, and are available at theoldglobe.org, by phone at 619-23-GLOBE or by visiting the box office. If you have not experienced The Grinch and Whoville, don’t put it off another year. Not a child? Take one or two or just let the child within you attend. Who knows; it might just win your holiday heart.
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