This “Grinch” Doesn’t Steal Christmas—He Steals Hearts

Dr. Seuss’ timeless characters enchant kids of all ages in Overture Hall

 

I don’t usually start my Christmas traditions before Thanksgiving (although Santa Claus always was the last in line at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade), but you can almost guarantee to jump start the holiday spirit with a trip to the Overture Center between now and Sunday, November 26.

The latest entry in this season’s Broadway at Overture series is the national tour of “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical.” I’ll admit that I looked forward to opening night…with a bit of trepidation. After all, yours truly was the right age when the original television animation was new, and when you get that soaked into your holiday DNA, it’s hard to look at any other version (thus the Jim Carrey film didn’t excite me enough to watch it more than once).

But one of the most fun parts of this production is that the Whos and much of the set pieces look like they burst off the old television screen into semi-chaotic life. Matt August directs with an intermittently cartoonish energy, and Philip Bryan is appropriately over the top as the title character.

Certainly what lies at the heart of the show is the inevitable confrontation between the Grinch as a very bad Santa, indeed, and little Cindy-Lou Who. Here Bryan hits a pros balance in timing and emphasis, and gives room for the precocious Delilah Rose Pellow to melt any Grinchian hearts that may have remained in the audience. She seems to have a real “belt” voice growing nearly as fast as the Grinch’s heart eventually does; even allowing for the wonders of amplification, Pellow confidently steps up to the plate and knocks her “Santa for a Day” out of the park.

Which brings me to my own Grinch-ish moment; the additional songs by composer Mel Marvin with lyrics by Timothy Mason are the musical equivalent of the empty calories most of us will be consuming to excess over the next month or so. Then again, I’ll allow that hearing the original “Welcome, Christmas” from the assembled Whos, and one of the greatest non-sacred Christmas hits of all time, “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” casts a deep shadow over all other musical numbers. Still, the new tunes are economically crafted and never bog down the action (the production runs without intermission in a straight 80-minute presentation).

The story is told in the conceit of a flashback, with a version of “Old Max,” a soon-to-retire much older version of the young pup that the Grinch captured and forced to abet his dastardly scheme. Bob Lauder as the elder canine and Andreas Wyder as his youthful version play off each other well, even when they’re not supposed to really see each other: Old Max is coming back for one last look at Whoville before going far away, and of course re-envisions the whole story as it played out years earlier.

Then there’s perhaps the most important members of the Grinch experience—all the kids in the audience. Lauder brings them in to sing a last repeat of a verse of “Mean One” with lights up, and of course these kids didn’t need surtitles to get all the words. Similarly, youngsters are encouraged to shout out “Christmas!” when the Grinch is struggling to finish the phrase when he restores the presents and goodies to the Whos.

So if you’re in need of a boost to your spirits as you face the added stresses and craziness that somehow the world insists upon at what should be a simple and joyous time, buy two tickets to see the Grinch (eight performances remain through Sunday)—and be sure to take a youngster with you.

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