note: entire contents copyright 2012 by Sheila Barth
When holiday musical, Dr. Seuss’ (a.k.a. Theodor Geisel) “How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical,” appeared two years ago at the Citi Performing Arts Center Wang Theatre, audiences of all ages were captivated by the mean, fuzzy green monster who lives high atop a hill and hates Christmas. He also resents the happy little Whos, who live below, in Whoville, and their overzealousness for celebrating Christmas. Multi-aged theatergoers attending this year’s production in the same, elegant, renovated theater are experiencing the same whimsical fantasy in the one-act, 84-minute, musical, featuring a cast of 26. There are some subtle changes, with non-memorable new music and book by Mel Marvin and Timothy Mason, but enough of the original heartwarming message and eye-opening stage effects, audience participation and interaction to keep children’s attention glued to the stage.
The story opens with Max, the Grinch’s elderly dog, (Ken Land) reminiscing about his mean master’s change of heart - literally- in this charming, life-size version of Dr. Seuss’ holiday book.
John Lee Beatty’s cartoon-looking, black-and-white set, simulating pages from Dr. Seuss’ simple drawings, is surrounded by a red frame with blinking theatrical lights.
Suddenly, in the front left corner of the stage, a long-clawed, furry hand and arm emerges. The Grinch’s startling presence adds an ominous undertone to the bell-shaped Whos, decked out in their pink, red, and white cheery costumes, as they weeble, wobble, sing and dance, declaring their joy about Christmas as they musically welcome the holiday season.
While narrating his tale, tired old Max shares the stage with and is overshadowed by his younger, friskier alter-ego, (Gilbert L. Bailey II), who somersaults, leaps, cartwheels, with puppy love - and reluctance to carry out his master’s evil deeds.
As the Grinch, Jeff McCarthy’s deep, rich, resonant voice is delightful to hear, even as he angrily declares “I Hate Christmas Eve,” and plots to steal the Whos‘ Christmas presents, festive meals, and holiday spirit.
Pat Collins and Lauren Phillips’ superb lighting, Michael HP Viveros’ sound design, enhanced by Music Director Joshua Rosenblum and orchestra and Gregory Meeh’s special stage effects, such as the Grinch and Max flying through the air on a sleigh, through snow, then teetering on a precipice, are fantastic.
The Grinch has a change of heart when he meets little Who, Cindy-Lou, who tugs at his heartstrings and lovingly hugs him, without realizing he’s the frightening ogre who annually overshadows their annual Christmas fete. Tori Feinstein melts theatergoers’ and the Grinch’s heart during their duets and special moments together. She alternates portraying Cindy-Lou with Abigail Shapiro.
Perhaps the musical score isn’t hummable, excluding popular number, “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” (from the original animated series), and maybe the Whos and Whoville are more enchanting to tiny tots, but “The Grinch” is a welcome alternative to more somber holiday fare featuring the same themes - redemption, kindness toward our fellow man, and a little child shall lead us.
As glistening snow rains down on theatergoers, and they’re showered with a blast of red and white confetti, visions of cruel, green swampy-looking, grumpy creatures, world chaos, flagging economies, and poverty dissipate into a magical spirit of goodwill, if only for 84 minutes.
BOX INFO: One-act, 84-minute musical, appearing through Dec. 9 at the Citi Performing Arts Center Wang Theatre, 270 Tremont St., Boston. Performances are Wednesday through Friday at 7 p.m.; Saturdays, 11 a.m., 2,5,8 p.m.; Sundays, 1,4 p.m.; also, Thursdays at 11 a.m. Tickets are $35-$125. For tickets or more information, call 866-348-9738 or visit www.citicenter.org; groups of 10-more, call 617-532-1116 or visit firstname.lastname@example.org.