Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Theater review: How the Grinch Stole Christmas at Winspear Opera House in Dallas
I can't imagine a better way to celebrate December than with a visit to Whoville with the little Whos you love best.
Bah Humbug! Oh wait, that's the wrong cantankerous curmudgeon of the holidays. This one is green and furry. And he doesn't get any visits from ghosts or claim his crankiness is due to bits of undigested roast beef. And unlike that other die-hard opponent of Christmas, this Grumpy Gus just may win you over long before his change of heart.
Stefan Karl, as the Grinch who stole Christmas from those sweet little Whos down in Whoville, doesn't just chew up the scenery, he burps it right back up (more than once). But he does it with such glee, and to the delight of the entire audience, that it's hard not to start rooting for him even before his heart grows three sizes at the show's end (Oops! Spoiler alert...)
Of course, the outcome of this touring production of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, one of Dr. Seuss's most enduring classics, is never in question. The joy is in the journey, and what a fantastic joy it is.
Most of us are familiar with the half-hour animated special from 1966, which features direction by cartoon stalwart Chuck Jones and the voice of Boris Karloff as both the Narrator and the Grinch. Modern audiences may also be able to quote from the 2000 Ron Howard-directed live-action film version starring Jim Carrey. But it's the full-length musical stage production, which first played on Broadway in 2006, that's made its way to Dallas this week at the Winspear Opera House in Dallas (playing through December 12). With songs by Mel Marvin and Timothy Mason supplementing a few favorites from the original animated show, the spirit Dr. Seuss brought to his story is expanded and — in some cases — even improved upon.
From the moment you exit the escalator from the Winspear Opera House's parking garage, you're immersed in Grinchiness. On opening night, Grinchy himself gave somewhat of a press conference (along with little Cindy-Lou Who) for reporters and the crowd of spectators. Necks were craning and toddlers were hoisted on parents' shoulders to watch the Grinchmeister grimace and extend his posterior to guffaws and squeals from adult and child alike. The walls of the Winspear's auditorium are bathed in Grinch green, and the curtain features the familiar designs of the original author himself, Dr. Theodor Seuss Geisel. In short, you know what you're in for from the outset, and boy do you get it!
The performances are uniformly stellar, the production values are first-rate, and the orchestra (under the baton of Jason Wetzel) sounds luscious and full — the perfect complement to the pitch-perfect cast.
Robert Morgan's costumes for the Whos recreate the pudgy dumpiness we all remember from the classic book and animated special. John Lee Beatty's primarily black and white set design looks ripped right out of the book, and the lighting design of Pat Collins and Lauren Phillips creates a thrilling cinematic quality at times (most notably during Grinchy's ride down Mount Crumpit).
Cindy-Lou Who, the little girl who believes even the Green One can celebrate Christmas with a smile, could very easily come across as annoying and grating. Brooke Lynn Boyd, however, grabs at the heart of even the grouchiest of theatre-goers with a purity and simple grace that is more adorable than should be allowed by law.
Bob Lauder, who plays the older and wizened version of The Grinch's loyal mutt Max, narrates the proceedings with a wistful longing for that life-changing moment in his Master's life. His playful romp with the younger version of himself (played by Seth Bazacas) should strike a chord with any adult in the audience who remembers when they were a little bit spryer than they feel this year.
But the show belongs to Stefan Karl as the titular grouch. His over-the-top solo, "One of a Kind," is a true show-stopper. It's when he's allowed to let loose with this number that the show really takes off and barrels towards its Christmas morning conclusion. He growls and grunts his diatribe against the Whos and their holiday merriment with every bit of the bluster you want to see from your Grinch. His berating of the children in the audience for enjoying the show only makes for more laughter from the kid in all of us. We want him to be bad, and he not-so-gladly complies. Its Karl's performance the audience remembers most, and you'll be sorry if you miss it yourself.
Which brings us to an important question for any chaperone over the age of about ten: Is this just an hour-and-a-half long babysitter for the munchkins, or can taller non-Whos enjoy the show? Young or old, I double-dog dare you to try and leave the Winspear this week without a smile on your face.
It's hard to find fault with this glorious production, but I would have liked to have seen a clarification (either in the program or somewhere in the lobby) of who was playing Cindy-Lou Who and Annie Who at each particular performance. Four actresses play the two roles at alternating shows, but — unless I somehow missed it — there's no way of telling who's Who (pardon the pun) from night to night. Shame on the producers for not taking the time to give these young actresses their proper due.
So the Grinch is in town, folks. And he's here to bring the Christmas spirit to one and all, whether he likes it or not. I can't imagine a better way to celebrate December than with a visit to Whoville with the little Whos you love best.
Pegasus News Content partner - John Garcia's The Column
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