Sunday, November 19, 2017

How The Grinch Stole Christmas Steals the Show

I'm always blown away by companies who manage to make true fiction come to life on stage.


Photo by Kaitlin Randolph

Especially when the art is abstract. To my mind, adapting an animationS auteur like Dr. Seuss to the stage would be a nearly herculean task - between the eye popping colors and truly abstruse shapes and silhouettes, it seems like something that would be very difficult to replicate accurately.

Photo by Kaitlin Randolph

Thank goodness then for the Children's Theatre Company (CTC), who makes live action Dr. Seuss seem effortlessly easy. This was most clearly evident last weekend as I attended How The Grinch Stole Christmas, a beautifully adapted version of the classic Christmas story that had the audience literally gasping out loud with delight at the beautifully designed show.

Photo by Kaitlin Randolph

For a brief recap in case you live under a rock, How The Grinch Stole Christmas tells the story of an evil creature named the Grinch who lives alone atop Mount Crumpet, overlooking a small village named Whoville. Christmas is the biggest day of the year in Whoville and the Grinch absolutely hates it. After decades of lamenting the existence of Christmas, the Grinch discovers a way to kill the holiday off completely by sneaking into the Who's homes and stealing everything - their presents, their food, their trees, even the logs for their fires. What the Grinch doesn't reckon with is encountering a small Who child named Cindy Lou Who. Cindy Lou treats the Grinch with greater compassion than he has ever known and begins to melt his icy cold heart. Cindy Lou's kindness, coupled with the fact that the Whos celebrate Christmas anyway by singing carols even after all of their trimmings are gone, leads the Grinch to realize that true happiness and joy lie in healthy, loving relationships, and not in things. He decides to bring all of the stolen goods back to Whoville and reintegrates into the town, abandoning his lonely perch on Mount Crumpet and becoming a member of society once again.

Photo by Kaitlin Randolph

Anchoring this cast is Reed Sigmund as an absolutely superb Grinch. I've seen Sigmund in several roles (including as a hilarious ugly stepsister in last year's Cinderella, or in last season's performance of another Dr. Seuss classic, The Sneetches), but he was born to be the Grinch. From every sinister glance to every deliciously drawn-out line, Sigmund signs off every Grinch-y scene with a flourish. The audience literally gasped with delight when he first emerged from his Mount Crumpet cave, and I can't think of a better embodiment of this role. Fellow CTC company member Dean Holt is also lovely as the narrator, the elder version of the Grinch's pet dog Max. Holt has a warm, comforting presence that helps balance some of Sigmund's inherently freaky delivery (some very small kids may be scared; Sigmund is really good at being Grinch-y), and Holt is exactly the narrator the show needs to stay on familiar footing.

Photo by Kaitlin Randolph

The rest of the cast is composed of several other regulars, who are equally delightful. Natalie Tran is perfectly poised as the Young Max, lending a crystal clear voice to her role. Mabel Weismann is the embodiment of charm as Cindy Lou Who, with several lovely solos that melted not only the Grinch's heart but those of everyone in the audience. Max Wojtanowicz and Sara Ochs are hilarious as Grandpa and Grandma Who, respectively, and Autmn Ness and Dwight Leslie reprise their parental roles as Mama Who and JP Who, respectively.

Photo by Kaitlin Randolph

The orchestra, led by Conductor Victor Zupanc, does a lovely job with each song and provides a thorough soundtrack for the show, keeping it firmly in approachable kiddo territory. The sets, designed by Tom Butsch, and costumes, designed by David Kay Mickelsen, are swoon-worthy and will please even the most die-hard Dr. Seuss fans. I can't praise them highly enough: from the gently sloped and curving Christmas trees to the shockingly cerulean fur of the Grinch, it's a stunning achievement, and the eye candy alone is worth seeing this show.

Photo by Kaitlin Randolph

The Grinch has been a mainstay in America's cultural firmament for decades for a reason, and this production is a a perfect representation of why. We all know (and we all contain) a little bit of the Grinch, and it's always worth a reminder to value people and love above things. Although this is technically a Christmas story the lessons the Grinch teaches us can apply year round. After a year of extreme political polarity, natural disasters, stress and general malaise all around, isn't it lovely to have the opportunity instead to focus on the things that unite and fulfill us? Delight your kids and inspire your better self with this pitch-perfect adaptation of How The Grinch Stole Christmas, which shows at CTC through January 7. For more information and to buy tickets, click on this link.