We live in an age where no entertainment product, no matter how brief and concise and perfect as is, cannot be turned into a bloated stage musical. Sometimes, they are successful. Most of the great Disney animated musicals are charming little 90-minute romps; they can become massive epic stage shows with success (The Lion King) and failure (Tarzan). It all depends on the adaptability, the intent, the ability to honor the source material.
That’s problematic with the new stage show How the Grinch Stole Christmas, based on the 24-minutes TV cartoon from half a century ago (and itself based on a 30-page picture book by the legendary Dr. Seuss). The TV show, narrated with honeyed unctuousness by the great Boris Karloff, is a more-or-less first-person account of a strange mountain creature who “steals” Christmas from the cloying residents of Hooville, only to discovery the trappings of the holiday are not the same as its spirit. That’s a concise message that shouldn’t require 90 minutes to tell, but it does onstage.
The downside of this production is that the new lyrics and music (by Timothy Mason and Mel Marvin) cannot hold a fuzzywuzzle to the brilliant rhymes of the good Doctor, nor Albert Hague’s catchy, quasi-jazz score from the TV. They repeat motifs until they ache in your eye, and pair season/reason so much, you wonder if English is a second language for them. (Treason, peas on, teasin’ — c’mon… try!)
The good news — and there is good news — is that “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and “Welcome, Christmas,” the two signature numbers from the cartoon, are here to delight. Better get, Seuss’ magically whimsical drawings are made flesh with lop-sided costumes, silly hair and outrageously curved scenery. It is a bit like a living cartoon.
And then there’s Philip Bryan, the actor playing the Grinch. He can’t be Karloff, or even Jim Carrey, so he goes for something stranger: A smidge of Tommy Wiseau, a sprinkling of Dr. Frank-N-Furter, a dollop of a vaudevillian mid-stroke, and voila! This Grinch is a hoot, full of surprises and banter (mostly with the kids in the audience). As family entertainment, the production is colorful and well-intentioned. Even though Max — conceived as an old dog (Bob Lauder) narrating the adventures of his younger self (Andreas Wyder) — looks nothing like the TV character, they actors have a ball hamming it up. This isn’t great theater, or a great musical, but as family entertainment goes, it pulls its weight.
— Arnold Wayne Jones