I had read the book, first published in 1957, seen the 1966 TV animated-version and the 2000 movie version starring Jim Carrey, but I had not seen the musical interpretation. Prior to seeing “Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical” Tuesday night at Old National Centre, I wondered how Seuss’ holiday classic might fare as a live, stage musical. I am pleased to report that not only does it translate well onto the stage, it far exceeded my expectations. And that is not overstatement. A presentation of Broadway in Indianapolis, this touring company production runs through Dec. 1.
It’s hard to imagine anybody who isn’t familiar with Seuss’s heartwarming tale, but just in case, it’s about a curmudgeonly, mean-spirited hermit who lives in a cave, with his unloved dog named Max. Obsessed with ruining Christmas for the Whos, who live in the village below his Mount Crumpit lair, he concocts an evil plan.
Playing that villain was Philip Huffman, an actor who turned in a tour de force performance. I hesitate to use that phrase because reviewers tend to throw it around a lot, but if there were ever a performer who deserved such praise it would be Huffman. Sneering contemptuously as he slinked and creeped about the stage, never since Ebenezer Scrooge has there been a villain more cold-hearted than his Grinch, which he played with buoyant aplomb. It was a vocal, acting and comedy performance that is right up there with some of the best I have seen in all the years I have covered theatre. Huffman’s vaudevillian showmanship was most delightfully demonstrated in “One of a Kind.”
Holding her own opposite Huffman was Lily Tamburo as the diminutive Cindy Lou Who, a little girl who steals The Grinch’s heart, which grows three sizes larger as a result of her befriending him. A little phenom, Tamburo showed maturity as a performer and rare talent as a singer and actor. She was especially touching in her memorable solo performance in “Santa for a Day.”
There is no shortage of exceptional talent in this production, including that of W. Scott Stewart, who played Old Max and Jared Starkey as Young Max. Stewart’s rendition of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” which included a sing-along with the audience, in which most in the house joined in, was a highlight of the show.
A very poignant moment in the show was the entire ensemble representing the citizens of Whoville singing “Welcome Christmas.” Incorporating nonsensical lyrics, such as “Welcome Christmas, fahoo ramus/Welcome Christmas, dahoo damus/Christmas day will always be/Just so long as we have we,” the song, which captures the wonderment and true meaning of the season, deeply touched me.
The show’s costumes, sets (after Seuss’ illustrations), lighting, and special effects all contributed to a sensory experience, creating an atmosphere that was simply magical. Enhancing this highly spectacle was the 10-piece orchestra, led by music director Peter Leigh-Nilsen that played Timothy Mason and Mel Marvin’s fetching and often quirky score.
In an age of business and profit, exemplified by Black Friday and Cyber Monday during the Christmas season, Dr. Seuss’ classic contains an important lesson that the holiday isn’t about things, but rather a celebration of an idea and a call to embrace pure joy for joy’s sake. I can’t think of a better way for you and your family and friends to kickstart that joy than to see this show.
Tickets for “Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical” are available in person at the Old National Centre Ticket Office, online at BroadwayinIndianapolis.com, or by phone at 1-800-982-2787. The performance schedule will be Wednesday and Thursday evening at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 1:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.