The Grinch has been stealing Christmas for the past fifty-two years, ever since the now classic Dr. Seuss children’s book first hit the stands, yet who would have thought then that the curmudgeonly cave-dweller with a heart “two sizes too small” would go on to conquer the small screen (in a 1966 animated special featuring the voice of Boris Karloff as the Grinch), the big screen (Jim Carrey played the hairy Green One in 2000), and even Broadway (in musical theater form in 2006 and ’07)? Not even Dr. Seuss himself could have imagined such a future for his 1957 picture book.

The Grinch is of course the grouch turned green with envy at the sight of all those Whos just bursting with holiday excitement, while he sits crankily atop Mount Crumpit with only his faithful dog Max to keep him company.  With a chip this big on his green shoulder, what’s a Grinch to do but steal every one of their holiday presents and decorations and thereby “prevent Christmas from coming?” Unfortunately, mean old Mr. Grumpy didn’t reckon with getting caught in the act by little Miss Cindy-Lou Who—or being mistaken for none other than … Santy Claus!

The Broadway version of How The Grinch Stole Christmas, with its book and lyrics by Timothy Mason and music by Mel Marvin, began its life in Minneapolis in 1994.  It’s at San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre, however, that the musical has had its greatest and most noteworthy success, and it is to the Old Globe that How The Grinch Stole Christmas has now returned for its twelfth consecutive year of charming and delighting audiences of all ages. 

In the musical version’s most noteworthy innovation, book writer Mason created the role of Old Max, the elderly incarnation of the Grinch’s faithful pooch, who narrates the tale with all those great Dr. Seuss rhymes like: “‘I knowjust what to do!’ The Grinch laughed in his throat.  And he made a quick Santy Claus hat and a coat.  And he chuckled, and clucked, ‘What a great Grinchy trick! ‘With this coat and this hat, I look just like Saint Nick!’” 

How The Grinch Stole Christmas’s eleven songs include TV special’s two most famous numbers, “Welcome Christmas (Fah Who Doraze)” and “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” (music by Albert Hague) as well as the Mason/Marvin creations “Who Likes Christmas?”, “I Hate Christmas Eve,” “Santa For A Day,” and a pair of songs added in 2007, “This Time Of Year” and “It’s The Thought That Counts.”  (You’d think that after twelve years, a cast recording would have been released, but alas, no such luck.)   

The 2009 production introduces Broadway’s Jeff Skowron in his first Old Globe appearance in the title role, and what a tour-de-force performance it is.  Deliciously dastardly, delightfully over-the-top, and cute as can be, Skowron is a Grinch par excellence, and no more so than in the Fosse-esque number “One Of A Kind,” a guaranteed show-stopper. 

The wonderful Martin Van Treuren returns to the Globe for his third year as the wise and wizened canine, Old Max.  Young Max is Broadway’s Logan Lipton, from the original cast of Wicked, and a more adorable performance (or performer) is hard to imagine. At the performance reviewed here, Shea Starrs Siben was Cindy-Lou Who, so cute and cuddly that no Grinch could resist her tiny tot charms. (All the children’s roles have been double cast to allow the pre-teens time to be kids. )

Appearing as Cindy-Lou Who’s family are Steve Gunderson (Papa Who), Anne Fraser Thomas (Mama Who), Kürt Norby (Grandpa Who), and record-breaking 12-year Grinch vet Eileen Bowman (Grandma Who)—and what a terrific quartet of triple threats they are, even hidden under Who wigs and behind Who makeup.

The kids in the “Red Group” (reviewed here) are a talented bunch indeed: A.J. Foggiano (Danny Who), Gaby Greenwald (Betty-Lou Who), Dylan Nalbandian (Boo Hoo), Allison Grace Norwood (Annie Who), Alexis Louise Young (Teen Who), and the Little Whos: Aaron Acosta, Felicity Bryant, Karli Cruise, and Shianne Evans.

Completing the cast as the Grown-up Whos (as well as understudying leading roles) are the multitalented Amy Biedel, Ashley Fox Linton, Erik McEwen, Jordan Miller, Michael Mendez, Anise Ritchie, and swing James Vasquez.

Benjamin Endsley Klein holds the directorial reins for his third year in a row, doing a splendid job of carrying on the work of Jack O’Brien, who conceived and directed the original Old Globe production.  Dance captain Vasquez has lovingly restaged John DeLuca’s original (and by that I do mean original) choreography, with additional choreography credited to Bob Richard. Musical director John Samorian conducts the show’s topnotch eight-piece orchestra.

If ever there was a musical’s design team who should get above-the-title billing, it’s How The Grinch Stole Christmas’s scenic designer John Lee Beatty and costume designer Robert Morgan, who bring the original Dr. Seuss vision to vivid red, pink, black, and white life, the Grinch’s green an innovation of the TV special. Properties director Neil Holmes has created the show’s authentically Seussical Christmas trees, cans of Who Hash, step ladders, roast beasts, sewing machines, and countless other Whoville paraphernalia, made with scarcely a straight line or right angle in sight. Oh, and real snow (or a pretty close approximation) falls upon audience heads.

Completing the Grinch design is the excellent work of lighting designer Pat Collins and sound designer Paul Peterson.

It wouldn’t be Christmas without the Grinch, and it wouldn’t be an Old Globe Christmas without How The Grinch Stole Christmas.  This dozenth-year production is guaranteed to make the heart of any real-life Grinch grow three sizes … and then some!

Old Globe Theatre, Balboa Park, San Diego.

–Steven Stanley
December 6, 2009
                                                                               Photos: Craig Schwartz

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