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Regional Reviews: Chicago

Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical
Cadillac Palace Theatre

Stefan Karl and Company
Dr. Seuss's holiday classic "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" was just 69 pages in print and 26 minutes in its 1966 animated TV adaptation, and like just about everything that author wrote, was just perfect as it was for what it was. This stage musical adaptation, conceived by the estimable Jack O'Brien for San Diego's Old Globe Theatre and, later, Broadway, deserves some credit for trying to stay true to Seuss. Unlike Ron Howard's feature film version released in 2000, which constructed an elaborate back story detailing exactly why the Grinch hated Christmas rather than just relying on Seuss's concise thesis that perhaps his heart was just too small, this version keeps to the plot of the original book. Even so, in expanding the tale from 26 minutes to 85 minutes, librettist Timothy Mason and composer Mel Marvin have had to add filler, with songs and additional dialogue that do nothing to improve the storytelling. The first half or so of the show does little more than re-state the premise that the Whos of Whoville love Christmas while the Grinch hates it, mostly in songs that are just okay, and wrap around "Welcome Christmas," the minor holiday classic written by Albert Hague to Dr. Seuss's lyrics for the 1966 TV film. There's also a big solo for The Grinch, "One of a Kind," which is a charming enough number in the British music hall tradition, but it doesn't add much to the story or character development. Whenever the dialogue veers away from the original text (becomes "sans-Seuss-ie," if you will), the words simply lose their appeal.

Once the Grinch embarks on his Christmas Eve mission to steal all the presents and decorations from Whoville, the writers return more closely to the source material and we actually have a story to follow. The song "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" from the TV version sets up the action, and leads into a sweet and melodic ballad, "Santa for a Day," sung by Cindy-Lou Who, the kind little girl who ultimately warms the Grinch's heart. By the end of the show, which provides real snowflakes falling on the audience, the heartwarming charm of the Dr. Seuss story wins the day, but the show's first half is only mildly entertaining setup.

None of this is to fault the non-Equity cast led by the Icelandic actor Stefan Karl in the title role. Karl makes the Grinch a villain we can warm up to—mischievous and nasty without being distasteful. He has a great set of pipes for the songs and agility for the character's physical humor. He's a real find, actually, and fills the demands for a leading man with star presence in a non-Equity tour. Another impressive performance is given by Bob Lauder as the older version of Max, the Grinch's faithful dog. His character is the show's narrator and he projects a warmth that suits the demands of that role perfectly. Lauder's terrific bass-baritone is most pleasing on "You're a Mean One Mr. Grinch" and "This Time of Year." His counterpart, Seth Bazacas as Young Max, has winning comic skills for his verbal and physical bits, and Georgia-Kay Wise (who alternates with Jenna Iacono in the role) is sweetly unpretentious as Cindy-Lou, nicely selling "Santa for a Day," the best of the original songs here.

By the standards of most touring children's musicals, the production values are relatively modest. John Lee Beatty's set wisely relies on the Dr. Seuss illustrations in a series of painted flats to depict Whoville, and there's a fairly impressive effect of the Grinch flying over Whoville in his sleigh. Robert Morgan's costumes create a Munchkinly look for the Whos of Whoville and a green goblinish Grinch. It's not the sort of production that will knock out the adults in the audience, but it's a perfectly fine show for kids who will enjoy the surly Grinch and his faithful doggie Max and will identify with Cindy-Lou and the chorus of kids on stage. It's by no means the sort of experience offered by the Disney musicals or Wicked, but going in with proper expectations and a reasonable deal on ticket prices, it can be a fun experience for theatregoing families with younger kids.

Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical will play the Cadillac Palace Theater, 151 W. Randolph St., Chicago through December 16, 2012. For ticket information, visit, ticketmaster, or call 800-775-2000.

Photo: Broadway in Chicago

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