Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical Presented by Target. 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. Production created and supervised 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. Puppet design by Michael Curry. Sound design by Acme Sound Partners. Wig/hair design by Thomas Augustine. Make-up design by Angelina Avallone. Special effects design by Gregory Meeh. Orchestrations by Michael Starobin. Cast: Patrick Page, Rusty Ross, Caitlin Belcik, Nicole Bocchi, Aaron Dwight Conley, James Du Chateau, Eamon Foley, Libbie Jacobson, Kaitlin Hopkins, Caroline London, Michael McCormick, Malcolm Morano, Jan Neuberger, Heather Tepe, Price Waldman, Brynn Williams, Jahaan Asmin, Kevin Csolak, Janet Dickinson, Antonio D'Amato, Danielle Freid, André Garner, Brianna Gentilella, Amy Griffin, Sky Jarrett, Kurt Kelly, Jess LeProtto, Daniel Manche, Katie Micha, Jillian Mueller, Josephine Rose Roberts, Nikki Rose, William Ryall, Molly J. Ryan, Jeff Skowron, Pearl Sun, Rafael Luis Tillis, Corwin Tuggles, Kelley Rock Wiese, Lawson Young, and John Cullum as Old Max.
As red and white as a candy cane and twice as sweet, the new musical production of How the Grinch Stole Christmas! at the Hilton screams three things: Christmas (duh), good cheer, and Target.
Staunch foes of the corporatization of Broadway will probably be driven apoplectic by the retail giant's involvement with this production, which originated at San Diego's Old Globe. Target has a prominent Playbill credit just below the show's title - in a larger font than the name of the Dr. Seuss book on which this musical is based - and beyond the color scheme of some 93% of John Lee Beatty's set and Robert Morgan's costumes, there's also the little matter of the company's barely camouflaged logo showing up rather ubiquitously in the design.
No, it's not always pleasant. But do try to look past it: The show struggling to make itself seen from beneath a mountain of merchandising possibilities isn't half bad, or even a third bad. In fact, when it's allowed to connect to the innocent, imaginative fun that characterized the original Seuss book, it's a delightful theatrical sleigh ride.
It never soars higher than when it sticks closely to the lines and lyrics that originated with Seuss himself, aka Theodor Geisel. His intricate rhyming, as always a combination of real and whimsically invented words and phrases, somehow seem even more appropriate to the holiday season than they do describing scenarios of, say, animals dressed in various bits of human clothing. And his child- and adult-friendly worldview, expressed here in the story of a giant green monster who robs the neighboring Whos down in Whoville of their Christmas trappings but not their Christmas spirit, made an ideal companion piece to the other Big Poem of the season, "The Night Before Christmas," when it first appeared in print in the 1950s.
While the book found (and continues to enjoy) great success, for children of the last couple of generations the story is best known from the classic 1966 Chuck Jones TV special, which remains a perennial holiday fixture. With Seuss's own lyrics set to music by Albert Hague, scream king Boris Karloff as the narrator and Grinch, and Thurl Ravenscroft basso-profundoing the timeless "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch," this is what many people think of when they think of the Grinch - or, really Seuss at all.
So any retelling of this story is doomed to compete with this, and will probably be found wanting. (See the Jim Carrey film adaptation from a few years back. Or better yet, don't.) Neither the seven new songs from Timothy Mason (lyrics) and Mel Marvin (music), nor Mason's book, will erase memories of what's come before or, sadly, stay with you for very long. (Mason and Marvin have tried every trick in the book to get their "Who Likes Christmas?" opener/closer to linger in the ear, to no avail.) They pad out a bit of the story, giving a bit of weight to a few of the Whos and making the Grinch a tad - but only a tad - more sympathetic. The writers make nothing but sensible theatrical choices, even if foisting the burden of depth on characters like Cindy Lou Who or the Grinch's dog, Max, sometimes threatens to crack the story's fragile, but not inconsiderable, charm.
For the most part, Mason and Marvin restrain themselves and let the story do its own talking, usually to pleasing - if seldom side-splitting - effect. If most of their new words aren't really recognizable Seuss, they're decent approximations. And if some choices are more head-scratching than heart-warming - do the Grinch and Cindy Lou really need to share a power ballad? - they never put much of a damper on the show's entertainment value. It's not the TV special, but it's a model of tight dramatic construction compared to the last Seuss musical, Seussical, which opened on Broadway six years ago. Matt August's direction and John DeLuca's choreography (restaged by Bob Richard) are never groundbreaking, but do the job.
The production is also solidly cast, with Patrick Page a genially grumpy Grinch, Kaitlin Hopkins a hoot as a Who mother, Rusty Ross a nicely credible canine as Max, and a roster of secondary characters, many double-cast children. Those include Cindy Lou: I saw Nicole Bocchi (Caroline London is her alternate), and she had adorability to spare, even if her money notes could be a bit more secure when she duets with the Grinch. (Since her age is likely still in the single digits - though, like a seasoned pro, she doesn't state it in her Playbill bio - she's got plenty of time.)
Of most interest to regular theatregoers is John Cullum as the narrator, an older version of Max. Firm a singer and personality as he might be, Cullum's intoning of "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" can't replace Ravenscroft's definitive rendition and, well, there's not that much else to the role. Still, his buoyant baritone and uncorkable stage presence count for a lot, and are the glossy ribbon on this brightly packaged seasonal entertainment. Say what you will about corporations' effects on Broadway, but as long as they find a way to cast people like Cullum in shows this harmlessly (if not flawlessly) fun, they're at least hitting their target.