“Whatever the reason, his heart or his shoes, he stood there on Christmas Eve, hating the Whos,” and if you can’t recite a few lines from the story, you need to watch more TV around the holidays. Better yet, experience the classic story live.
Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas is one of the most loved holiday stories, and the musical version at The Old Globe is the ultimate gift that keeps giving, which is a Grinchy trick when you consider the premise is to not focus on gifts.
Now in its 19th year, the musical gleans the best of all things from the book, penned by Theodor Geisel in 1957, as well as the animated TV feature, the one with Boris Karloff as narrator. This Grinch production is one of the best holiday shows in town for families and a painless way to introduce little ones to live theater.
Initially created by Jack O’Brian, the holiday treat retains the faded candy cane palette from the book – red, white and pink. Whole pages from the book are enlarged in scrawling ink. But Grinch is green like the animated monster.
With director James Vasquez at the helm, the Globe’s production celebrates hope and change, and creates the wonderfully awful creep who hates Christmas and every Who down in Who-ville.
His face contorting and big belly swaggering, J. Bernard Calloway is back as the big-voiced Grinch in road-kill green fur. At times the fur appears plucked. “I love it when the little ones cry,” he snarls.
We reconnect with Old Max, the scruffy gray dog in an overcoat played by Steve Gunderson, who serves as historian and narrator, and ties scenes together. He recounts the terrible past and has a grandfatherly way of swishing his bushy tail.
New this year is the nimble and animated Tyrone Davis, Jr. as Young Max, the abused dog forced to steal toys and pull an overloaded sleigh. He’s a loveable mutt and howls and scampers over the stage with just enough canine locomotion. We learn that he’s smarter than his angry owner.
You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch. Calloway plays this Scrooge character like a lonely barroom bully. His ranting is frightening and heart wrenching. Wait a minute. This is a kid show, right?
Back in 2012, The Old Globe realized some families and children desired a toned-down version. The 2016 sensory-friendly performance is presented Dec. 10 at 10:30 am. Morning performances appeal to families with very young children. There’s a sound proof crying room available too.
For the two or three who have never read the book or watched the animated show, rhyming verses and songs are familiar, such as “Welcome Christmas” (Fah Who Daraze). There’s a sing-a-long section and cards that prompt “Stink, Stank, Stunk.” Calloway shakes the rafters in his Grinchy solo “One of a Kind.”
The stage show is a giant pop-up book, but adults will appreciate how it expands his sleazy character. He spies on the Who Families when they’re shopping.
Squeezed into a cowboy disguise, he tries to blend in. “I’m from Houston,” he claims, and his yuckety-yuckety drawl channels the actor Tommy Lee Jones.
Watch him slither down the side of the stage. You’ll cringe when he puts a giant arm around innocent Cindy-Lou Who, played in rotation by Mikee Castillo and Mia Davila. They look and sound oh- so tiny.
Did you know? Theodor Geisel lived the last half of his life in La Jolla. He drove a Cadillac with “GRINCH” license plates. His wife Audrey S. Geisel has supported the Globe’s production for 19 years.
Leading the Whos, Robert J Townsend, Bets Malone, Larry Raben, and Nancy Snow Carr sing sweet harmonies and skitter about. Like all good parents, they worry and fret and hope for the best. They give the production a polished tone that gets better year after year.
There are potent themes about the importance of family and trust. The Grinch discovers Christmas doesn’t come from a store. In the end, his heart grows three sizes. He’s a bad guy who becomes the hero. Still, the show’s rarely too emotional, and curly costumes and wigs bring back the smiles.
Mirroring Geisel’s sketches, costumes by Robert Morgan give the Whos jolly insectoid bodies. It’s a marvel that anyone can sing and deliver lines without cracking up.Women are happy exaggerated pear shapes. Guys wiggle in saggy diaper-like bottoms. Curly shoes and soft-serve wigs are eye-candy.
Sets by John Lee Beatty mirror the melting cupcake houses from the book. The roast beast is drawn with inks on stark white cardboard.
The Who-Chestra, directed by Elan McMahan, tickles the ears. A gentle dusting of snow is icing on the cardboard setting.
Putting The Grinch on stage is a wonderful and awful idea. With a run time of 90 minutes, constant rhyming and holiday plotting can become cloying. The Grinch TV feature runs about 25 minutes. Still, this cast is alive. They run through the aisles. There are puppets and Whos popping out of trap doors. Even Grinches who hate Christmas can admire this merry production.
Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas runs through Dec. 26, 2016. www.oldglobe.org.