Dr. Suess’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
Guilty pleasures abound during the holidays, and we happily indulge. “It’s Thanksgiving/Christmas/Hannakuh/Kwannza,” we tell ourselves as we reach for another slice of pumpkin pie at dinner, order a Peppermint Mocha at Starbucks or have just one more glass of eggnog at the office party. Good news for all – there is a new guilty pleasure that does contain any calories. In fact, it even burns some of them off, depending on how hard you laugh. That pleasure is currently located at the Hilton Theatre on Broadway, where the musical Dr. Suess’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is playing until January 7.
Adapted from Dr. Suess’ classic children’s story, The Grinch is a familiar tale to all. The book was first made into an animated movie in 1966 and was adapted into a major motion picture starring Jim Carrey in 2000. After opening in San Francisco at the Old Globe Theater, the theatrical version has come to New York for a limited run. Considering its success, it will join the Rockettes, becoming a repeated feature during the holidays.
Narrated by an elderly Max (the Grinch’s sidekick dog), The Grinch tells the story of the title character, an isolated and angry green monster that lives on a hill above the town Whoville, a town filled with people who love Christmas. For unknown reasons, the Grinch hates the holiday and attempts to stop it from coming by stealing everything related to it. He ransacks the every home in the town, taking all of the food, gifts, and decorations. When the Whos celebrate anyway, despite the lack of material possessions, the Grinch realizes that he can not stop Christmas and experiences an incredible epiphany, embracing the holiday and all that comes with it.
Overseen by Jack O’Brian, veteran of comedies like Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The Full Monty and Hairspray, a sense of light-hearted laughter is easily maintained throughout the show, with a deeper edge of clever humor hidden beneath it. The Grinch manages to maintain a balance of entertaining both the children and the adults in the audience, and reaching that level of silliness and joy reserved especially for holiday events. It is cheerful without being cheesy.
Performed on a set that faithfully recreates the images of the book, the show is a crowd pleaser for all, with the brightly colored costumes and decorations and large ensemble numbers performed by the younger members of the cast sure to delight the children who come to the show. The parents will be entertained by numbers like “Whatchama Who,” an elaborate song and dance showing the children playing with their new toys on Christmas morning and the Grinch grimacing from the noise they make, something any parent can relate to. The script also includes a few sly double entendres slipped into the script to entice chuckles amongst the elders.
Much of this success can be credited to Patrick Page, who plays the title villain with a malicious pleasure. Covered in green from head to toe, he brings the animated character to life with skill and glee. From his first entrance onto the stage, he gives an exaggerated and extravagant performance of good old-fashioned fun.
Bursting out of a trapdoor onstage, decked out in a Dick Tracy-like trench coat and fedora, he stalks the stage, preparing for his sabotage on the holidays. His rendition of the song “One of a Kind,” in which he delights in his solitude, complete with high kicks, jazz fingers and a cane to accompany his Santa hat, is nothing short of delightful.
Page remembers that children are watching him, and he caters his performance to them, lunging out into the audience, surprising and scaring them. At the performance that I saw, when he was struggling to say the phrase, “Merry Christmas,” a little boy from the balcony shouted, “Say it, Mr. Grinch!” and he turned and scowled, shouting, “Why don’t you do it, then!”
He is joined with other actors of great caliber as well. As Old Max, John Cullum gives a wisely restrained performance (but he still gives a few wags of his tail towards the audience). He contentedly strolls the stage, reminiscing about when he was the young sidekick to the Grinch. I admit it is strange to hear a voice other than the cartoon recording singing, “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” but he pulls it off quite nicely.
The ensemble of Whoville citizens give a festive background to the show, with Nicole Bocchi as a disarmingly innocent Cindy Lou Who, whose lovely voice gives a wistful innocence to “Santa For A Day,” the song she serenades the Grinch with, winning his heart in the process. And Rusty Ross’ eager Young Max is a perfect helper to the Grinch.
The best, and briefest, way to describe all of their performances, however, is simply fun. It is impossible not to notice how these actors are enjoying themselves onstage.
Another truly delightful aspect of the show is that it mocks itself. When the Grinch gets the idea to steal Christmas, he poses dramatically as music plays. When he reaches the last chorus of “One of A Kind,” the curtain rises to reveal a background of bright green, which matches his fur perfectly. And when Cindy Lou Who begins singing, he sighs and mutters sadly, “Oh, it’s a ballad.”
The story is fictional, and it requires a willing suspension of disbelief from the audience that at times may be difficult to maintain. The families of Whoville are actually happy to have their relatives come to stay with them during the holidays. However, an escape from reality can be welcome at any time, especially now. A time that is supposed to be joyous and fun, the holidays easily become a source of stress and even politics, following Bill O’Reilly’s “War on Christmas” last year. No matter what the age of the audience member, the Grinch’s epiphany of, “Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, is a little bit more,” is a welcome one. It would do everyone well to remember it.