Ebenezer Scrooge and Henry F. Potter (that money-grubbing curmudgeon from It’s a Wonderful Life) aren’t the only meanies who pop up each year around Christmas time. There’s a third baddie ready and willing to ruin the holiday, only this one is non-human, furry and green.
We’re talking the Grinch, the antihero of How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by author-illustrator Theodorcq Geisel — better known as Dr. Seuss.
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The Grinch is a bit of a rock star in the pantheon of villains, the subject of the 1957 book, a 1966 animated movie, a 2000 film starring Jim Carrey and (of course) the inevitable musical. Sure, maybe he looks like a well-worn and especially shaggy bathroom rug, but the Grinch has staying power.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical features a book and lyrics by Timothy Mason, music by Mel Marvin and a couple of signature songs (Welcome Christmas and You’re a Mean One, Mr Grinch) from the animated movie. The touring Grinch company has stopped at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts for the holidays, sharing what is actually an often playful, heartwarming story about the redemptive power of love.
Tony Award-winning set designer John Lee Beatty has taken Dr. Seuss’ illustrations as his inspiration, which means that Grinch looks very much like a familiar, clever pop-up book. Robert Morgan’s whimsical costumes (lots of pink and white, with touches of holiday red) and the assortment of crazy wigs worn by the residents of Whoville turn human actors into cartoon characters.
But the production, with direction by Matt August and choreography by John DeLuca, isn’t a seasonal kiddie show. It’s very well sung and engagingly acted, equally enjoyable for grownups and all but the youngest kids, who may be scared by the green, growling Grinch, despite actor Stefan Karl’s comic finesse. (Yeah, there was isolated wailing on opening night, so if you think your child might be frightened, it’s probably best not to risk it.)
Karl, who has been working the Grinch’s fluttering furry fingers for eight years now, earns his place as the company’s title star every moment he’s onstage. He’s a skilled musical theater actor, a terrific singer, a deft comedian who knows exactly how far to push without crossing over into the world of the grand ham. Case in point: His razzle-dazzle solo on One of a Kind is a stylish hoot.
Bob Lauder, who narrates the show as Old Max (the Grinch’s aged canine), uses his deep operatic voice to great effect as he croons the familiar You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch. As the younger Max, Matt Weinstein brings a puppyish enthusiasm to playing the Grinch’s put-upon sidekick.
The colorful citizens of Whoville, that noisy and loving bunch whose happiness drives the lonely Grinch to hatch his Christmas-stealing scheme, are a joyful life force. Now’s the Time, a quartet sung by Papa Who (Vincent DiPeri), Mama Who (Melissa Weisbach), Grandma Who (Camella Clark) and Grandpa Who (Zach Kononov), shimmers with lush beauty.
And saving one of the best — certainly the tiniest — for last: Genny Gagnon, who alternates in the role of Cindy Lou Who with Rachel Katzke, is an audience Christmas gift all on her own. The little dynamo sings, dances and acts with the confidence of a person three times her age. Which makes her exactly the right person to melt the Grinch’s icy heart and make it grow three sizes. Because that’s what she does to everyone watching her.