KPBS AIRDATE: DECEMBER 24, 1999
He’s mean, he’s green, and he’s back, in all his Grinchy glory. Yes, it’s the grouch the Whos hate to hate, the shaggy, musical answer to “Bah! Humbug!” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” returns San Diego to wow the kiddies — and their folks, in this successful second edition of the Globe holiday sellout. It’s a quick, 75-minute, intermissionless sprint to ever-happy Whoville and its curmudgeonly, mountaintop neighbor.
The ho-hum music and lyrics are the same, and the less-than-stellar poetic liberties taken with the 1957 book. But the clever verse of the late La Jollan, Ted Geisel, is interspersed throughout the proceedings. John Lee Beatty’s magnificent sets are back, looking for all the world like a pop-up Dr. Seuss book sprung to life. And Robert Morgan’s whimsical costumes once again make their waddling, pod-shaped appearance.
Most of the cast is back, too, except for the kids, who grow too fast to hang onto their roles for more than a season. Little Cindy-Lou Who was played on opening night by Vanessa Anne Hudgens, an eternally-posing tyke who sings only moderately well. But she’s adorable, and she gamely makes it through the soppiest song this side of Mary Poppins. There are knockout voices in the ensemble though, especially the four main Who-harmonizers.
This year, the script has been tweaked a bit, so the story, and the Grinch’s turnaround, make more sense. Jack O’Brien’s direction is tightened up, too, and it’s great fun, though I missed the dramatic, mid-air, miniature, roller-coaster sleigh-ride that was so breathtaking last year. But the story remains intact. You remember the tale…. There’s this old meany living up on a hill, looking down on the Whos, who just love Christmas, as they tell us, innumerable times.
SONG: “Who Likes Christmas”
The Grinch, of course, hates Christmas, though it’s never quite clear exactly why… something to do with either his shoes or his heart being too small. In any event, he hatches a plan to fend off the nuisance of a holiday by stealing all the Whos’ gifts. And this after they’ve spent all their time frenetically shopping, shopping, shopping, in the show’s best song.
SONG: “Last Minute Shopping”
Well, Grinch notwithstanding, Christmas morning comes, and the Whos still sing and laugh and have a grand old time. So the Grinch learns a lesson about love and holidays, and presumably, shopping. And his heart grows a few sizes, though it’s not clear if his shoes do, too. As the great Green One, Guy Paul is better this year than last. He’s mostly given up on singing (a very good move), and relies on Rex Harrison-type intoning, enhanced by heavy reverb. It works beautifully, accompanying his skulking moves, serpentine tongue, and playful asides to the audience. The kids squeal with delight, and that’s the greatest treat of watching the show. It’s also the Globe’s greatest gift to San Diego. Long live the Grinch, and long may he bring new little audience-members to the theater.
©1999 Patté Productions Inc.