Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas and
Also see Arthur's review of Reconciliation
Two of the first theatrical gifts to be unwrapped on Twin Cities' stages are A Christmas Carol, being given its 40th annual production at the Guthrie Theater, and Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas, being mounted for the 7th time since its world premier production 20 years ago. These works share a number of identities: both are top tier classic tales, family friendly, and more secular than sacred in their narrative. They each depict a misanthropic central character who experiences redemption. The Grinch and Carol's Ebenezer Scrooge are changed by the wisdom and inner light of a child, by the fidelity of a companionfor Scrooge, his clerk Bob Cratchit, for the Grinch, his dog, Maxand by opening their hearts to a community. And both productions are treasures that will no doubt we welcomed by Twin Cities audiences for many years to come.
The Grinch is a hateful creature who lives on the mountain with his faithful dog Max. He looks down on a community of fanciful creatures called Whos, in the thrall of preparations for Christmas. The Whos' gaiety and exuberance rankles him to the core. He schemes to steal their holiday, and with it their good will, only to learn that the meaning of Christmas is not in stuff that can be stolen but in the stirrings of the heart.
Grinch is given a sparkling jack-in-the-box of a production, with eye-popping visuals, glorious sets (Tom Butsch) and costumes (David K. Mickelsen) that go beyond mirroring the imagination of Seuss himself. A wonderful design for the interior of the Whos' home has a cutaway roof that allows us to see stars shine and sleighs fly in the sky above, while the Whos are nestled in their beds below. The songs, while not a top drawer musical score, are bouncy, clever and poignant, as needed. Choreographer Wendy Seyb, a former child actor at the Children's Theater who has gone on to east coast success, has created clever and amusing dance pieces for the Whos that emphasize joining together in community, as well as wonderfully hammy numbers for the Grinch.
Reed Sigmund returns as the Grinch. He shamelessly mugs in the best possible way in his horribly wicked moments, yet shows true human (if that term can be applied to a Grinch) dimension as hatefulness drips from his being, and his heart famously grows by three sizes. The interplay between Mr. Sigmund and Brandon Brooks, as young Max, is both hilarious and touching. Brooks, for his part, is the face of pure affection and concern, as lovable a pup as they come.
The framing conceit of this Grinch has Old Max revisiting his youth and reliving Grinch's transformation. M. Adam Harris brings poignancy to Old Max, as he relives both the pain and joys of his relationship with the Grinch. As Cindy-Lou Who, Natalie Tran has formidable stage presence and a clarion singing voice that goes far toward bringing about the Grinch's change of heart. Keep your eye on that youngster!
A Christmas Carol similarly is encased in a beautiful bauble of a set (by Walt Spangler), capturing the charm and grit of Victorian era London, and costumed by (Mathew J. LeFebvre) from lords and ladies to gutter snipes, all to perfection. Joe Chvala's direction and movement attest to his status as a choreographer, as he keeps the large cast in constant motion, with particularly robust dances in the party scenes. All four ghosts make terrific entrances from above, below, or sailing across the thrust stage, keeping the audience in a state of discovery despite the story's familiarity. Attention to small details, such as Bob Cratchit contributing a coin on the sly to the charity-fund solicitors while his employer Scrooge is lambasting them and their cause, emphasizes that these are not archetypes, but real people living with real struggles and joys.
Past performances by J.C. Cutler as a blustery Scrooge, Kris L. Nelson as a soulful Bob Cratchit, Virginia S. Burke as a flinty Mrs. Cratchit, Tracey Maloney as a beseeching Ghost of Christmas Past, Robert O. Berdahl as both the tortured ghost of Jacob Marley and the stone-hearted young Marley, Angela Timberman as a Scrooge's defeatist housekeeper Merriweather, and Jay Albright as an exuberant Mr. Fezziwig have only improved with time. Newcomers to the production bring fresh gifts, including Bear Brummel as an endearingly romantic nephew Fred, Joel Liestman as a gregarious Ghost of Christmas Present, and Tyler Michaels, who brings his musical theater chops to two small roles (Dick Wilkins and Topper) that shine with both comedy and dance.
These are two marvelous productions that have stood the test of time, in keeping with the long traditions of our holiday season. Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas is an easier sit-through for the youngest children (both in length and energy level), while A Christmas Carol cuts more deeply by exploring the cause of Scrooge's bitterness before bringing about his redemption. But my advice is catch them both of you can.
Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas continues at the Children's Theater Company through January, 2015. 2400 Third Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN, 55404. Tickets are $25.00 - $80.00. Discounts available for groups of 10 or more. For tickets call 612- 874-0400 or go to childrenstheatre.org.
Book and Lyrics: Timothy Mason; Music: Mel Marvin; Director: Peter Brosius; Choreographer: Wendy Seyb; Music Director: Denise Prosek; Conductor and Sound designer: Victor Zupanc; Scenic designer: Tom Butsch; Costume designer: David K. Mickelsen; Lighting designer: Nancy Schertler; Associate sound designer: Sean Healey; Stage manager: Stacy McIntosh; Assistant Stage Manager: Tiffany K. Orr; Assistant Directors: Haden Cadiz, Ashley Katzakian; Assistant choreographer: Rudolph Tre Searles III; Assistant lighting director: Jake Kvanbeck; Stage management intern: Jane Heer; Dance captain: Meghan Kreidler.
Cast: Brandon Brooks (Young Max), Paul R. Coate (Grandpa Who), M. Adam Harris (Old Max), Meghan Kreidler (Betty-Lou Who), Sterling Miller (Danny Who), Soren Thayne Miller (Mini Grinch), Autumn Ness (Mama Who), Matthew Rubbelke (J.P. Who), Traci Allen Shannon (Grandma Who), Reed Sigmund (The Grinch), Isadora Swann (Tiny Who, Mini Max), Clair Tomari-Leak (Annie Who), Natalie Tran (Cindy-Lou Who).
Ensemble: Chris Alvarez, Ethan Asis, Kellan Beck O'Sullivan, Hunter Conrad, Gerald Drake, Jillian Jacobson, Atlee Jensen, Soren Thayne Miller, Grant Schumann, Essence Stiggers, Angela Strauman, Sadie Wendt, Max Wojtanowicz
Musicians: Greg Angel, Theresa Elliot, Joe Englund, David Hawley, Mark Henderson, Jay Johnson, Victor Zupanc.
A Christmas Carol continues at the Guthrie Theater's Wurtele Thrust Stage through December 28, 2014. 618 South 2nd Street, Minneapolis, MN, 55115. Tickets from $29.00 - $72.00. For tickets call 612-377-2224 or go to GuthrieTheater.org. Honorary Producer: Sheila Livingston; Adapted from Charles Dickens' novella by Crispin Whittell; Director: Joe Chvala ; Set designer: Walt Spangler; Costume designer: Mathew J. LeFebvre; Lighting designer: Christopher Akerlind, recreated by Ryan Connealy; Sound designer: Scott W. Edwards; Original Music and Music Direction: Keith Thomas; Fight Director: Doug Scholz-Carlson; Dramaturgs: Jo Holcomb and Anne Peterson; Voice and dialect coach: D'Arcy Smith; Stage manager: Michele Hossle ; Assistant stage manager: Jason Clusman; Assistant director: Adrian Balbontin; Assistants: Lisa Jones (costumes), Reid Rejsa (sound); Interns: Laurie Siwgart (directing), Katie Creeggan (stage management).
Cast: Jay Albright (Mr. Fezziwig, Scrooge's Priest), Robert O. Berdahl (George, Jacob Marley), Bear Brummel (Fred, Daniel), Virginia S. Burke (Robins Crusoe's Parrot, Mrs. Cratchit), J. C. Cutler (Ebenezer Scrooge), Eleonore Dendy (Dora Fezziwig, Jane), Nathaniel Fuller (Old Joe, Parsons), Stuart Gates (Mr. Wimple, David, Belle's Husband), Summer Hagen (Daisy Fezziwig, Mabel), Zach Keenan (Young Scrooge), Mrs. Wimple, Belle, Kitty (Katie Kleiger), Joel Liestman (Mr. Sykes, Ghost of Christmas Present), Tracey Maloney (Ghost of Christmas Past), Tyler Michaels (Dick Wilkins, Topper), Kris L. Nelson (Bob Cratchit), Peggy O'Connell (Thrive, Mrs. Fezziwig), Isabell Monk O'Connor (Mrs. Dilber, Mrs. Polkinghorne), Elizabeth Reese (Dierdre Fezziwig, Sally), Arusi Santesteban (Ali Baba, Donald, Ghost of Christmas Future), Angela Timberman (Merriweather).
Ensemble: Lizzy Gehenna, Dan Hazel, John Jamison Joe Kastner, Anna Sophia Mossiest, Victoria Ol ender, Roni Paige Peterson, Chris Pretzel, Laura Raser, Carl Swanson, Debbie Swanson, Dustin Xenon.
Children: Jordon Carlson, Carley Clover, Henry Constable, Noah Deets, Vivian Hays, Maia Hernandez, Sally-Anne Hunt, Ryan McCormick, Parker Miller, Ella r. Nelson, Tess Nelson, Gavin Nienaber, Emmanuel R. Torrez, Zel Weilandgruber, Victoria Wyffels.