Maybe it's the green fur around his face, or maybe it's playwright and lyricist Timothy Mason's interpretation of the character as a sassy attention hog, but the Grinch cuts a Beetlejuice-like figure in the musical adaptation of Dr. Seuss' classic Christmas tale, which runs through Sunday at the Winspear Opera House.
Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical debuted on Broadway in 2006, and Dallas made the list for its first national tour in 2010. The show has made a short tour every holiday season since, and this year it again visits Dallas, the fifth of six stops. The tour will wrap up in Philadelphia just before Christmas.
The musical is narrated by a wisened Max (Bob Lauder), the Grinch's Christmas-loving dog, who is making one final trip to the site of his favorite holiday memory. We're taken back in time to the days when Max was just a young pup, living with the Grinch (Philip Bryan) on a mountain overlooking the town of Whoville.
The Whos, wearing goofy, candy-colored costumes and exaggerated hairdos, are in the midst of Christmas preparations. Looking down on it all, the Grinch — who has heart palpitations at the mere mention of the word "Christmas" — hatches a plan to stop the holiday once and for all by snatching all of the Whos' decorations, presents and puddings in the night.
The musical's set pieces look as if they were hastily sketched, giving the charming impression that the whole colorful scene has been ripped from the pages of Dr. Seuss' book.
The action alternates between the Whos and the Grinch, who are given equal time. Delilah Rose Pellow and Avery Sell are spectacular as Cindy Lou Who, a young girl who finds the Grinch's heart and ultimately grows it by showing him compassion, but there's no question which character the audience delights in seeing most.
The Grinch, with his long, green, tendril-like fingers and rude manner, is the favorite of both children and adults. Upon his entrance, he demands more applause, and they are happy to give it.
"Ugh, it's a ballad," the Grinch says, when Cindy Lou Who launches into the precious song "Santa for a Day" after discovering him disguised as St. Nick and absconding with all of her toys.
Children sitting on usher-provided booster seats made up about two-thirds of the audience at the 11 a.m. show Saturday, and this joke and others were clearly meant for the parents. Unlike many contemporary children's tales, this musical manages to appeal to adults without pandering or being crude.
The Grinch addresses the kids in the audience as if they're more Whos, gently roasting them ("I hate you, and you — and especially you!") and eliciting their help when he can't seem to spit out the word Christmas. At adult events, attempts to solicit crowd participation can be awkward flops, but dozens of children Saturday were more than happy to offer their help — even when it wasn't explicitly requested.
They shouted out, sang along and jumped in the aisles, attempting to grab the fake snow and confetti that occasionally rained down from overhead.
"You're a Mean One Mr. Grinch" is the song everyone will recognize and enjoy, but the new numbers are compelling and immediately seem familiar. The Whos' holiday song, "Fah Who Foraze," is just a bunch of nonsense words set to a Christmas-y sounding melody, but perhaps unsurprisingly, it sounds a lot like every other song in rotation on KLUV this month.
The Grinch also gives a memorable, Vaudeville-esque performance to "One of a Kind," in which he dances with a whipping switch instead of a cane and refuses to get off the stage when it's time.
In contrast to the last children's musical we saw at the Winspear, Roald Dahl's Matilda, this one didn't suffer any audio problems. The dialogue and especially the lyrics had been garbled in Matilda, but How the Grinch Stole Christmas! was crystal clear and easy to follow.
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The musical is an hour and a half long, which is just enough to allow for the Grinch to make a believable transformation into, if not a Christmas lover, at least a Christmas accepter, without sending restless kids into temper tantrums. My 5-year-old brother started out captivated, but by the time an hour had passed, he was ready for the Grinch and the Whos to wrap it up.
Nevertheless, it's clear why someone thought it a good idea to transform this story, first published in 1957, into a high-budget touring production and why it has been a success. As with his other stories, like Green Eggs and Ham and Oh, the Places You'll Go!, Dr. Seuss manages to deliver simple and important messages without being trite.
The Grinch's lesson for adults is that being "one of a kind" is over-rated. And to the kids in the audience, many of whom probably asked for iPads for Christmas, it had this to say: Christmas isn't about the stuff.
But it may take a couple years or decades before that message sinks in. "The confetti," my brother responded when asked what his favorite part of the show was. And who could blame him?