KPBS AIRDATE: DECEMBER 9, 1998
Let’s see…. there are 12 days of Christmas, 8 nights of Hanukkah, 7 principles of Kwanzaa, and 3 gripes about the Grinch. Those would be my personal beefs about the Old Globe’s new holiday musical, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” which is based on the Ted Geisel/Dr. Seuss classic of 1953:
1. The Music (by Mel Marvin) — bland and forgettable. Suffice it to say that, after 80 minutes, I walked out of the theater singing “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” which isn’t from this show at all (but, you may recall, from the animated collaboration of Dr. Seuss & Chuck Jones).
2. The Book & Lyrics (by Timothy Mason)– nowhere near as clever as those in the 1966 cartoon. The rhythms are clunky, the rhymes downright klutzy. (If Dr. Seuss heard “Listless” rhymed with “Christmas”? Or “beneath” and “leash,” he’d roll in his lyrical grave). For the purposes of length, drama and extended interest, the story has been expanded, and is narrated by Old Max, a grown-up version of the Grinch’s young pup — standing, suitcase in hand, ready to pack it in, reminiscing about the old days living high above Whoville, with YouKnowWho.
This works all right, but there really isn’t much character development down in Whoville, and the Grinch’s ultimate, heart-enlarging conversion to a Who-lover and forever Christmas-fan is not half as touching as in the original, because the setup is so long, drawn-out and deliberate. The Grinch gets not one but two duets with Cindy-Lou, with whom he develops a relationship long before his metamorphosis. So there’s no surprise in his turnaround. Oh, and one more Grinchy grievance: the biggest, most elaborate musical number is about “Last-Minute Shopping,” which, as far as I can see, is antithetical to the whole point of the story — the fact that Christmas isn’t about commercialism, it’s about love and carols and camaraderie.
3. The Grinch can’t sing. Okay, he does have some mighty minor-key, non-melodious songs (even his cute soft-shoe routine, “One of a Kind”). But, on opening night, his fuzzy green hair stood up while he went repeatedly flat.
Well, all right. Enough grousing. At this time of transformations, this season of drama when even Scrooges and Grinches have total turnarounds, I hereby offer FOUR GOOD REASONS to grab your little loved ones and race to see this new holiday tradition, which is already just about sold out:
1. It’s gorgeous, thanks to John Lee Beatty’s set and Robert Morgan’s costumes. It’s as if the book just opened up and the images leapt off the page. Every Seussian line and look is reproduced exactly, from the frontispiece to the endpaper, from the hilariously imaginative podlike Who-costumes to the oversized refrigerator, replete with ‘roast beast.’
2. The staging is exciting and inventive — thanks to Jack O’Brien’s spirited direction and John DeLuca’s animated choreography. That precarious sleigh-ride alone, not to mention the snow falling on the audience, justifies the price of admission.
3. The cast is terrific — from the under-used funnyman Don Sparks as Old Max to the sprightly and adorable Rusty Ross as Young Max; to little Tiffany Scarritt as the Annie-wannabe Cindy-Lou Who; to the San Diego locals playing the Whos and mastering marvelous harmonies. And of course, there’s Guy Paul as the Grinch, who, though he can’t really sing or dance, has some very funny moves, an aptly nasty demeanor and a huge, serpentine tongue that just knocked out the tots.
4. It’s fabulous fun for children. The juvenile audience was delighted, entranced, mesmerized. Kids love to watch kids — and meanies and singing and dancing and silliness and bad-guys-turned-good. As do lots of adults (who even get to sing along with “Deck the Halls”). So, do a favor to the kids you know and love: take them to the theater — for the time (better yet, the first time) of their lives.
©1998 Patté Productions Inc.