Fort Worth — If you’re in the seats at Bass Performance Hall for Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical, presented by Performing Arts Fort Worth, at least one of the following categories applies to you: 1) you have a child; 2) you are a child; or 3) you’re a fan of the original book and/or the 1966 Chuck Jones animated short. We’re sure you couldn’t be a fan of the Jim Carrey movie, which The New York Times called a “bloated, incoherent travesty.”
Whatever’s moving you to shell out the green stuff for the green guy, you’ll find lots to like in this colorful and quick-moving show, directed in its national tour by Matt August from an original concept by Jack O’Brien. It’s the kickoff for the 2013-2014 “Broadway at the Bass” series—and is, like the first acorn dropping in the fall, a sign of the many, many holiday shows to come.
Tony Award winner John Lee Beatty’s whimsical, Seuss-ical sets tee up the fun. They’re giant versions of the pen-and-ink pages of the book, washed with candy colors. Houses, beds, refrigerators—even the Whos of Whoville—are all plump curves and funny bulges, just as the good Doctor intended. The happy Who folk, in costumes by Robert Morgan, look like frosted cupcakes—or maybe Munchkins who like to “think pink.” Original dances by John DeLuca (restaged here by Antoinette Dipietropolo) have the Whos moving in quirky little steps, adding to the cartoonish feel. Break out the snow machines and some Christmas décor, and it’s a recipe for happy.
This production is blessed by the two things it needs most: a ham-it-up Grinch (Stefan Karl) and a fresh-faced, genuinely adorable Cindy Lou Who (Piper Birney alternating with Jenna Iacono). Veteran Grinch Karl took a few minutes to find his groove on opening night, but then had plenty of fun: long furry fingers impatiently drumming, he lounged around the stage like a ratty green David Bowie, emitting a shrill little scream when faced with the things he hates—music, noise, kids, Whos, and especially Christmas. And the Grinch can work a room—prowling the edge of the stage, pointing at little ones in the front rows, then crooning with fake sympathy: “Ooh, did I scare you?” He’s a mean one, all right. Cindy Lou’s “Santa for a Day” number (“Oh, no—it’s a ballad!” groans the Grinch) is sweetly sung, and when she snuggles up very naturally into his shoulder, the Grinch’s heart isn’t the only one that’s touched.
The show’s expanded plot is simple enough: the Grinch’s dog, now a grizzled, philosophical Old Max (Bob Lauder) tells us (in appropriately rhyming lines) about that long-ago Christmas when the Grinch tried to “steal” it all, down to the last Christmas stocking—but learns that the season is about “something more” than stuff from a store. Old Max meets himself coming and going: Young Max (Andreas Wyder) is a “happy puppy” who doesn’t like the Grinch’s evil plans, or wearing an antler, but has to go along for the ride.
The show’s best songs are the ones we know already: “Welcome Christmas” and “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”—both with lyrics by Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss) and music by Albert Hague. New songs added for the musical in the mid-1990s by Mel Marvin and lyricist Timothy Mason are only so-so, but they’re packed with Seuss-style rhymes, and well sung by harmonizing Whos of all sizes and shapes. By the end you’ll know them well: songs are reprised once or even twice, with a couple of audience sing-alongs included. Let’s face it: it’s hard to turn a half-hour cartoon into a 90-minute spectacular.
In the end, Grinch—which seems to have become a seasonal must-do since its successful Broadway run in 2006 and 2007—left its young audience laughing and clapping, was short enough to keep parents happy, and even squeezed a tear or two from some older folks remembering the TV show of their childhoods. And if it’s Grinch time, can a Nutcracker be far behind? Welcome, Christmas!