BWW Review: HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS: THE MUSICAL Steals Hearts at Old National Centre
Many of us are sure to feel a surge of nostalgia as we recall the days when Dr. Seuss' beloved children's books graced our shelves. But nothing quite evokes that feeling as much as Dr. Seuss' HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS! THE MUSICAL.
The story itself is already fondly recalled by many, but to see it come to life, complete with Seuss-like set pieces, was like watching childhood being reborn.
Most everyone knows the plot of the story, either from film or book, but the musical version adds an intriguing change. The story is retold by Old Max, played by W. Scott Stewart. His deep, rich voice hearkened to the days of classic Christmas films when the narrator had soothing and velvety tones. Stewart recreates that feeling, enhancing the nostalgia, and is a talented vocalist.
Another fun addition is the part of Cindy Lou's Grandpa Who (Michael L. Parks). One may ask why it's necessary to include a grandpa for Cindy Lou, but what Parks brought to the stage was well worth it. He is the quintessential grandpa: talks too loud, says what he shouldn't, and tends to steal the show with his old-man antics.
Of course, you must be wondering by now about the pivotal role, THE GRINCH! Philip Huffman paid homage to the Grinches who have come before, but he definitely owned the show in every scene he played in (even if it was merely to show a green, furry hand). His massive range not only created great vocal moments but also showed in his inflection. The show was rife with humorous moments he created by a mere turn of tone. A notable moment was his brief time as a visitor from "Who-ston." His cowboy cadences were very entertaining to witness.
If you, like me, were always going on about how adorable Cindy Lou Who was, this production will Take That image a step further. Fiona Quinn has the perfect spritely appearance and itty-bitty voice we've come to associate with Cindy Lou. What was most striking about her was her vocal delivery. She in no way belied her young age but skillfully commanded the audience with her own ballad, "Santa for a Day."
For many people, watching The Grinch on TV or either of the movies is straight up holiday comfort food. Everyone knows the story. If you grew up watching the animated special, you know the song. So much so that if any cast member goes up on their line, any of last night's audience members would be able to chime right in. What I thoroughly enjoyed was that the production almost counts on the audience already having a close relationship with the OG story as audience participation is a large part of the show. We sang along, we clapped along, we even got snowed on - for an evening, everyone a resident of Whoville.
I really do have to credit the veteran Director, Matt August, the Set Designer (John Lee Beatty), the Lighting Designer (Pat Collins), and the Costume Designer (Robert Morgan) for catching the sights and standards of Christmas in Whoville. A prominent opening image of a snowfall established a seasonal sense of residence, and the restagings of some of the more classic scenes from Seuss' book and iconic cartoon are technically ingenious and often stunning. The sets by Beatty wisely impersonated Dr. Seuss's signature style, down to the houses of the Whos, looking like cupcakes. Such loyalty was appreciated; however, I wasn't sure it was entirely necessary for Morgan to emphasize so cheekily the nonhuman nature of the Who species. The shape-shifting resulted in more of an adventurous collection of Christmas fashion designers.
For me, the show had a secret weapon against any Scrooge audience members. Cindy-Lou Who (Fiona Quinn/Lily Tamburo) will certainly be recalled from the animated special for mistaking the Grinch for Santa Claus. In this show, she was allotted a much bigger role-singing, dancing and mostly melting hearts. Any would-be Scrooges will sure be converted.
On the whole, HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS: THE MUSICAL seemed to please the multitudes of critics in the audience who really mattered, those 10 and under, who hardly moved in their seats during the show's 90 minutes. That can confidently be taken as a sign of satisfaction. The Grinch may not have stolen Christmas from the Whos but he stole the hearts of the audience.
The show was really delightful, and you should not miss this short opportunity to visit the slopes of the Grinch's cave and prance around the tree in Whoville. Be sure to pick up your tickets through December 2nd.