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Dr. Seuss' HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS! Steals the Show - Now Thru Dec. 29

Holiday magic was evident at San Francisco's Golden Gate Theatre even before the Grinch began to steal Christmas.  Giant posters of Whos, the Grinch and his dog Max filled the lobby and kids of all ages rushed to snap pics of themselves with the familiar Dr. Seuss characters.  Adding to the fun was the Ghirardelli crew who were on hand dispensing free hot chocolate (with whipped cream) and handing out sample chocolate squares.

Inside the theatre a giant wreath was hung, center stage, just like the one in Dr. Seuss's 1957 classic book "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." A red backdrop stamped with Whos in their own wreaths replicated the inside cover of the book which, we're sure, brought back many happy Christmas memories for the audience.

This show for all ages stars the fiendish Grinch (the foul and perfectly sublime Stefan Karl), who does not like Christmas, but discovers that there is more to the holiday than he ever imagined.  The Grinch's dog Old Max (played grandly by Bob Lauder) narrates the story for us as we look back in time to the very Christmas when the Grinch hatched a wretched plan to steal Christmas from the Whos of Who-ville, who like Christmas a lot.  Max was a young pup then.  His younger self is played by the playful Seth Bazacas. The Grinch, whose heart is "two sizes too small" discovers, with the help of Cindy-Lou Who (adorable Bailey Ryon who alternates the role with Clara Young), that he was wrong about the holidays and the Whos all along.

Hodges and Hodges (Nick and Linda) took it all in, along with some hot chocolate and peppermint squares.  Their review of Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical follows.

Linda, what are your first thoughts on the show?

It's the perfect holiday show, Nick - funny, professional and entertaining.  Set designer John Lee Bailey looked like he and his team had a lot of fun with the Seuss theme.  I was wondering how he would show the height of Mt. Crumpet (where the Grinch lives) as well as Who-ville below.  The use of puppets was ingenious for these mountaintop looks, but they should have been costumed in the same pink and white that the full-sized Whos were wearing. Aside from that it was a great set design that worked well with the story.

The puppet outfits didn't bother me at all.  What I thought was fantastic was the sleigh ride down the icy terrain.  It was understandably dark, for set reasons, and really looked like they were racing down the 3000 foot mountain to Who-ville.  Definitely worth the price of admission! 

That was pretty amazing.  I was really impressed by Stefan Karl's Grinch.  Best moments were when he broke the fourth wall and addressed the audience.  He sure knows how to work the crowd. During the song One Of a Kind a wall of tinsel covers the whole stage and we older adults are treated to his impression of Marilyn Monroe singing for President Kennedy.  As his number ends Old Max tries to continue with his story but the Grinch bursts through the tinsel for an unannounced encore as he yell's "Thank you! Thank you in the cheap seats!"

That was great.  I liked that too –especially the "ad-libs."  He had everyone laughing at that, but also, his sheer physicality under the costume and makeup, was hilarious. He was reminiscent of Bettlejuice when he shouted, "I hate you!...  What are you looking at old lady?  You wanna fight?!"  Karl's showmanship was dazzling.

The makeup (Chad Jason) and hair (Thomas Augustine) and costume design (Robert Morgan), especially the long hairy fingers, really worked to "Grinchify" him up!

Karl used the long hairy tentacles to full advantage and they gave off a wonderful creepy vibe.  His hair was very spiky and reminiscent of hair you might find in an anime.  It really grew on me as the show went on!  But the makeup on the Grinch's face looked unblended and un-textured.

It definitely seemed like they made the decision to move away from the book's Grinch face.  Speaking of which – I was sad to see that Young Max's costume didn't mimic the Max of the book or the 1960's television version.

Yeah, the iconic Max in the book was colorless, but scraggily.  The Max from the famous cartoon is small and milk chocolate brown.  This Max looks like a skunk with a giant curved tail and seems to have been eating powdered doughnuts because of the white painted on his mouth used to represent a snout.  For a professional production I feel they could have used a prosthetic snout like the one used  for the Wolf in Into The Woods, but I digress. 

What did you think of the songs with music by Mel Marvin and Lyrics by Timothy Mason, who also wrote the book?

A standout for me was the Grinch's What Cha Ma Who with all the Who children.  These kids are extremely talented and they handled the choreography (John DeLuca and Bob Richard) really well.  As the Whos finish up their Christmas shopping we see a glimpse of realness when the Whos sing about the pressures of buying presents in the song It's The Thought That Counts.

Of course everyone was waiting for the song firmly entrenched in our memories, You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch," and it did not disappoint.  Written by Albert Hague and Dr. Seuss himself, it brought the house down.  Unfortunately for me, no new sing-able favorites emerged.

Bob Lauder nailed the Thurl Ravenscroft deep baritone!  It came during a great scene when the Grinch throws and kicks presents to Young Max and he catches all of them; and once with a dive!  The audience sing-along during the reprise really captured the holiday spirit.

Yes, but the big overall scene-stealer is Bailey Ryon as Cindy-Lou Who.  What a cutie!  At 9 years old, she's a natural. Capturing the Who bobble walk and singing a touching ballad (Santa for a Day) to the Grinch couldn't have been easy.  I think that's then his heart begins to grow…

I was wondering how they were going to show that. But we won't be a spoiler here. 

Favorite part?

When the Whos came out to sing Who Likes Christmas?  The insertion of a special A cappella "fahoo fores dahoo dores" in the middle was pitch-perfect and, I'm sure, gave the warmest feeling to anyone who is a fan of the original animated series.

My favorite part was the song "You're a mean One, Mr. Grinch."  You just can't top that.  But the whole show was delightful.  Dr. Seuss's original message of the true meaning of Christmas really shone through this production.

Okay, I just have to say, for young people my age, that same message was recently captured in a great Jack Daniel's commercial whose tagline is," "It's not what's under the tree that matters, it's who's around it."

Well, no matter where the message comes from, it's a great one to share at this holiday time!

Hodges and Hodges highly recommends "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" now playing at the Golden Gate Theatre


Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical

Book and Lyrics By Timothy Mason

Music by Mel Marvin

With additional music and lyrics by Albert Hague and Dr. Seuss

 Directed by Matt August

Through Dec. 29

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