Theatre Review by Matthew Murray - November 9, 2007
Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas! Based on the book How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss. Book and lyrics by Timothy Mason. Music by Mel Marvin. Additional music and lyrics by Albert Hague and Dr. Seuss. Original production conceived and directed by Jack O’Brien. Directed by Matt August. Original choreography by John DeLuca. Set design by John Lee Beatty. Lighting design by Pat Collins. Costume design by Robert Morgan. Sound design by Acme Sound Partners. Puppet design by Michael Curry. Wig/hair design by Thomas Augustine. Make-up design by Angeline Avallone. Special effects design by Gregory Meeh. Musical direction, incidental music and vocal arrangements by Joshua Rosenblum. Orchestrations by Michael Starobin. Starring Patrick Page. With Ed Dixon, Rusty Ross, Darin De Paul, Aaron Galligan-Stierle, Tari Kelly, Caroline London, Jan Neuberger, Athena Ripka, Jahaan Amin, Juliette Allen Angelo, Hunter Bell, Caitlin Belcik, Janet Dickinson, Sky Flaherty, Eamon Foley, Sami Gayle, Brianna Gentilella, Amy Griffin, Joseph Harrington, Michael Hoey, Carly Hughes, Liesl Jaye, Kurt Kelly, Jess LeProtto, Marina Micalizzi, Katie Micha, Jillian Mueller, Jacob Pincus, Simon Pincus, Andy Richardson, Josephine Rose Roberts, William Ryall, Jordan Amsuels, Johnny Schaffer, Jeff Skowron, Tianna Jane Stevens, Heather Tepe, Janelle Viscomi.
No, not by shutting off your lamps a la NBC broadcasting football or by stashing brightly wrapped bundles of carbon offsets under the tree. You can get your yearly quota - accompanied by side dishes of warm fuzzies and twinkling music - just by sledding down to the St. James for How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical.
This second helping of this lovely adaptation of the timeless Dr. Seuss (aka Theodor Geisel) book and the 1966 Chuck Jones animated TV special it inspired has more than a few familiar fixin's. There's still the largely pleasing score by Mel Marvin (music) and Timothy Mason (lyrics, as well as the libretto) that fits comfortably enough around Albert Hague and Seuss's pre-existing songs, "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch," and "Welcome, Christmas." Matt August has returned as director to once again recreate Jack O'Brien's production for The Old Globe in San Diego. Two key cast members have been retained: Patrick Page as the omnivorously grouchy Grinch, and the lively Rusty Ross as his put-upon dog Max. And, yes, the show still has its share of unnecessary ornamentation over the fat-free originals.
But the show this time around is even more magical than it was last year. This is due in no small part to Ed Dixon, who's stepped in as the older version of Max and provides a buoyant baritone and a vitality that the role's originator, John Cullum, somewhat lacked. He narrates the evening with much lighter and surer paws, and even a dose of the lingering grumpiness of being brow-beaten by history's furriest scrooge. Still more importantly, everyone has moved just a wee bit closer to Santa's workshop.
Last year, the Grinch skulked and sulked about the Hilton, a beautiful theater several shades too cavernous to capture the many nuances of all the Christmas-loving Whos down in Whoville. This vest-pocket story of how the Grinch comes to respect and even love the holiday he once hated still came through, but often had the vaguely hollow feeling of street performers acting out a pageant among the skyscrapers of Whotropolis.
The St. James's cozier confines more easily integrate you into the intimacy of one of the friendliest and most unassuming shows on the boards. The candy-cane hues of the Whos, represented in both John Lee Beatty's sets (richly inspired by Seuss's drawings) and Robert Morgan's costumes, seem less oppressively overpowering now. (Because the show is being presented this year by Citi instead of Target, many of the creepier corporate overtones have dwindled away as well.) When scenes focus on just a handful of Whos, usually with tiny-and-trusting Cindy-Lou Who (Caroline London or Athena Ripka; I saw the latter, and she was endearing) at the center, you can't resist becoming more involved.
Is it a good thing that it also makes the Grinch more human? When Page steps downstage in front of a glittering curtain to deliver his solo turn "One of a Kind," he suddenly possesses all the reliable risibility of a rock god at the top of his form. He so laps up being wrapped up in his own individuality, you might find yourself wondering whether maybe he's on the right track with regards to Christmas after all. The man who last year was a terrific functionary sailing through a can't-lose proposition of a part now struts with the assurance of a full-fledged star.
So, for that matter, does the rest of How the Grinch Stole Christmas! You can still gripe about its necessity in certain key areas, and whether its tactics of implanting in your brain songs like "Who Likes Christmas?" and "Santa for a Day" (the too-precious ballad for the lovely little Cindy-Lou Who to sing to the Grinch in the pathologically adorable scene they share) really amount to mistletoe-level sabotage. But all the pieces join together with such honest charm, maintaining your own humbuggery is a hopeless battle. Besides, what are the other options for satisfying your needs for theatrical green? Wicked? Young Frankenstein? In heart, soul, and pure entertainment, the Grinch has them both beat.