Theater review: "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical" at Dr. Phillips Center

click to enlarge Theater review: "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical" at Dr. Phillips Center
photo via Dr. Phillips Center
Only days after Universal Orlando opened their annual Grinchmas show, another Seussian Scrooge has stolen into town and set up shop at the Dr. Phillips Center, but this doppelgänger is a little different than the one you’ll find at the theme park.

Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical
was originally conceived in the mid-1990s by Jack O’Brien for Minneapolis’ Children’s Theatre Company and directed on Broadway in 2006 by Matt August; it arrives in Orlando after half a decade on the road. Seuss’ slim story about the green holiday-hating humbug, adapted as a TV musical by Chuck Jones, has been stretched into a 90-minute intermission-free extravaganza, with Albert Hague’s classic tunes “Fah Who Doraze” and “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” supplemented by unmemorable additional songs by writer Timothy Mason and composer Mel Marvin.

Bob Lauder narrates as the elderly incarnation of the Grinch’s dog Max (with the energetic Matt Weinstein as his younger self) in an oddly melancholy framing device; Lauder’s tone is less Boris Karloff than Burl Ives, but he nails the bass notes during his signature song.

Stefan Karl gives the Grinch (who was sneaky yet suave in the originals) a boorish broadness not unlike Jim Carrey’s screen interpretation. Unfortunately, Karl’s go-for-broke performance is undermined by garish makeup that barely resembles Seuss’ sketches, though he does make the most of his furry finger extensions.

The goofy, guileless Whos have become a highlight of the production, thanks to John DeLuca and Bob Richard’s peppy pedestrian choreography; a pitch-perfect performance by precocious Rachel Katzke (alternating with Genny Gagnon) as the pure-hearted Cindy-Lou Who; and the absence of off-putting prosthetic noses. John Lee Beatty’s sets capture Seuss’ idiosyncratic illustrations and conceal enough confetti cannons and snow machines to outfit a 4-D attraction, and Pat Collins’ lighting is faithful to the book’s surreally saturated palette.

America doesn’t have an equivalent entertainment to England’s Christmas pantomimes, but if we did I bet it would look a lot like How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Colorful, comfortable and slightly campy, but competently executed, this is the theatrical equivalent of a hot cup of cocoa with a side of sugar cookie. It won’t satisfy your hunger for a full meal, but complaining about something so sweet and simple might earn me coal in my stocking.

[12:22 p.m.: This review was updated to correct the name of the actress playing Cindy-Lou Who on the evening reviewed.]

Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical
through Sunday, Dec. 13
Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts

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