Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
This musical adaptation follows and expands on the 1957 Dr. Seuss book and the extremely well-known animated special which premiered in 1966. The Whos down in Whoville love Christmas, but the Grinch who lives in a cave outside of town hates the festivities and the joy the day brings the town's residents. He sets out to steal all of Christmas from the Whos, with the unwilling help of his dog Max.
The book for the stage version is by Timothy Mason. To bring the show to a full 90-minute running time, Mr. Mason has added plenty of stage time for the Whos, as well as a lot of showbiz razzmatazz for the Grinch. The ideas for the new material are strong, but some are not brought to full fruition in the writing and come across as filler. Still, the familiar parts of the story are well told and there's a great deal of humor and good will which capture the spirit of the source material. When the Grinch first appears, Mr. Mason smartly presents him in a silly, buffoonish manner which, while still showing him as a meanie, is funny enough to put the younger theatergoers at ease. He also effectively uses an elderly version of Max to serve as the narrator of the show.
The score has new songs with music by Mel Marvin and lyrics by bookwriter Mason, while also incorporating the famous songs from the cartoon. The new songs boast lyrics with playful rhymes in the style of Dr. Seuss, and music which, though not overly memorable, is tuneful and pleasant. However, the only song you're likely to be singing leaving the theater is the famous "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch."
What makes this tour truly special are the leading performances of the cast. Stefan Karl is known to kids as Robbie Rotten, the villain on the children's TV show "Lazy Town." Here, he perfectly hams up every line and lyric as The Grinch. Mr. Karl brilliantly nails each bit of humor with his apt over-the-top mannerisms, devilish line deliveries, and physical embodiment of the fiendish malcontent. With a deep baritone voice, he also sings the role expertly. Likewise turning in an excellent performance is Bob Lauder as Old Max. Mr. Lauder brings first-rate stage presence and excellent timing to the show, and sings the aforementioned "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch." superbly. Also providing worthwhile performances in support are Andreas Wyder (Young Max), Jenna Lacono (Cindy-Lou Who), Vincent DiPeri (Papa Who), Tara Tagliaferro (Mama Who), Katy Vaughn (Grandma Who) and David Thornton (Grandpa Who). The entire cast does well in portraying these eccentric characters and executing the fitting zany, off-kilter choreography by John DeLuca and Bob Richard.
Matt August serves as director for this tour, replicating most of original Broadway director Jack O'Brien's work. The show is presented with a Seuss-style tone, smooth transitions, and audience-friendly blocking, and incorporates some fun stage antics, lots of props, and a few bits of cute puppetry to provide effective variety. Musical director Steven Cuevas leads a great sounding 10-piece orchestra playing well-suited orchestrations by Michael Starobin.
John Lee Beatty's whimsical sets and Robert Morgan's costumes in red, pink and white instantly recall the Dr. Seuss book illustrations and the animated designs while having sufficient originality as well. The lighting by Pat Collins and Lauren Phillips is professional and features a number of neat effects.
Great leading performances, including an ideal portrayal of the Grinch by Stefan Karl, along with a suitable score and book, make for a good-hearted and fun holiday option for Cincinnati audiences. Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! continues at the Aronoff Center in Cincinnati through December 1, 2013. Tickets can be ordered by calling (800) 294-1816. For more information on the tour, please visit http://www.grinchmusical.com/.
-- Scott Cain