Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical
From fairly humble origins in La Jolla, this annual story has sprouted live productions in various locations around the world. The current incarnation at The Pantages Theatre delivers on all the promises of the classic TV episode that continues to garner impressive Nielsen ratings.
At The Pantages, John (“Night Court”) Larroquette plays Old Max, the dog that is our narrator. He leads us back in time to the fateful Christmas Eve when his master turns 180° about Christmas. Like that older story of holiday transformation, both Grinch and Scrooge transform from curmudgeons to warm hearted souls.
As with earlier productions in La Jolla, the current Pantages stage set is constructed totally in black and white. The stylistic graphics of Dr. Seuss are replicated with cross-hatched pen strokes, rendering Whoville as we remember it. The costumes are all in shades of pink and red, so when the Grinch slithers onstage his green furry demeanor is a stark contrast.
The musical runs a brisk 90 minutes, but that is still three times the length of the TV show. Timothy Mason does a nice job expanding the book, coupling his lyrics with the music of Mel Marvin to add a variety of songs to the plot. The wistful lyric about past memories ‘where they ever really real’ is the most poignant and Seuss-like. Much of the dialogue tracks the TV show, and many of the new lines deliver the clever Seuss rhyming pattern.
Although Larroquette uses a tired hang-dog demeanor for most of the show, it contrasts nicely with his perky younger self. James Royce Edwards as Young Max scoots and slides across the stage with the exact eagerness of an innocent pup. But the actor having the most fun onstage is clearly Stefan Karl as the titular Grinch. Having won a BAFTA award for TV work, Karl leverages his prior stage experience to play a compelling Grinch occasionally reminiscent of the gloriously over the top Jack Nicholson in “The Shining.”
“One of a Kind” is one of the better songs that is not in the original TV show. The song is used initially by the Grinch to establish his demeanor, and then is used again as he transforms his feelings about Christmas. As in the TV show, the ebullient Cindy-Lou Who (well-played by Kayley Stallings) is the innocent catalyst for the Grinch. Although the two characters play well off each other, it seemed that the key moment of the Grinch’s transformation (when his heart goes from two sizes too small to three times normal) is unnecessarily drawn out. The power of the change is dissipated. Compared to the moment when Scrooge opens his window on Christmas morning and discovers from the boy on the street that Christmas has not passed, Grinch’s transformative moment is lackluster.
That quibble aside, the evening is a wonderful and breezy evocation of what is now a timeless tale.