Dallas — Signaled by Phillip Glass’ music “The Light” and the Moody chandelier’s disappearance into the ceiling of the Winspear Opera House, lights comes up on a woman and three wee ones entering downstage right. The woman sits in a chair and the little girls sit on the floor in front of her, looking up as she reads a passage from the book. Lights change, music swells and the 2017 National Tour of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical begins its Dallas stop. It is an explosion of color, lights, shimmers and sparkling voices—everything one expects from the musical version of one of the most beloved stories of the holiday season.
Theodor Seuss Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, did not live to see how Timothy Mason (book and lyrics) and Mel Marvin (music) translated his 1957 book How the Grinch Stole Christmas through music. It had been issued as an animated special in 1966, and as a film in 2000. With the permission of the Geisel estate, Mason and Marvin’s musical first opened in 1994 at Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis. The musical has been touring since 2010.
Seuss’ beloved characters spring forth like an animated pop-up coloring book in the production directed by Matt August, currently onstage at the Winspear, in the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Broadway Series.
The story is set in Whoville on Christmas Eve. The citizens of Whoville, the Whos, are scurrying around preparing for the big day. Our narrator, Old Max (Bob Lauder), introduces us to the Whos in “Who Likes Christmas.” Among the citizens are Papa Who (Josh Houghton), Mama Who (Mia Rose Lynne), Grandpa Who (James Schultz), Grandma Who (Beatrice Crosbie), Cindy-Lou Who (Delilah Rose Pellow), and Annie Who (Bella May Mordus and Madalen Yarbrough).
Living high up in a house on a hill apart from the townspeople is a grumpy, mean-spirited creature who hates Christmas, The Grinch (Philip Bryan). He is alone with only his dog Young Max (Andreas Wyder) as a companion.
The Grinch hates Christmas so much he decides to destroy its existence, going as far as to steal all of the presents from the children in Whoville. Cindy-Lou stumbles upon him as he is preparing to leave her house with the loot. It is through the creature’s interaction with this child that he discovers what he had lost through hating Christmas.
Philip Bryan is a lot of fun as The Grinch. Bryan mops the floor with “One of a Kind,” the character’s big showstopper number. “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” with Old Max, Young Max and The Grinch is the audience-singalong opportunity and the Winspear swelled with the voices of children and parents alike.
“Santa for a Day” is not without its dicey passages but Pellow moves through them with lyricism and charm.
There is not a weak vocal moment in this production, which runs 90 minutes and is without an intermission. Neither is there a misstep with John Lee Beatty’s sets or Robert Morgan’s costumes which are true to Seuss’s original illustrations. Both are magical under Pat Collins’ lighting design.
Conductor Peter Nilsen’s 10-piece ensemble is clean, expressive and tight. Nilsen manages the show’s clock without squeezing the soloists into a metronomic box.
The citizens of Whoville: Mathew Bautista, Caleb Funk, Brian Gay, Karma Jenkins, Brian Cedric Jones, Chelsea Vann and Jennifer Wilcove. The Who kids are: Hanna-Lyn Baxter, Dallyn Brunck, Taylor Drumwright, Hannah Grace, Schuyler Midgett, Jonathan Nadolny and Staci Stout.
When asked why he chose this name for his character, Geisel explained “I just drew him and looked at him, and it was obvious to me who he was.” Interesting given that Grinch is one of only two characters in Dr. Seuss’ books that he based on himself. Seuss was a visual artist with a fascination for words. He was also a man who clearly understood how to entice children to read.
That love of imagination follows through with this musical version.