Music by Mel Marvin
Directed by Matt August
A heartwarming tale of a familiar storybook come to life.
The Chicago Theatre is playing host to Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas: The Musical (which is, incidentally, this critic’s favorite children’s book) while it stops here for it’s North American Tour. Director Matt August, and his cast and crew, quite literally bring the pages from the storybook right onto the stage. At the core, this production is for children, but anybody who can tap into a childlike sense of wonder can have an amazing time!
I feel safe to assume that we all recall the tale of The Grinch. The Green monster who lived high up on the mountain with his begrudgingly loyal dog, Max. The Grinchy Grinch who hated Christmas and all the Whos and all their toys and Whatchamagoos. Not to mention all the noise, NOISE, NOISE! Well, this version goes just a little bit differently. The play begins with Max, now an old dog, coming before the audience to tell the story of his old master, The Grinch. Old Max (powerfully played by Ken Land) acts as a narrator of sorts. Coming in and out of the show to tell us about the Grinch and all his evil ways and how his heart managed to grow three sizes that day. He opens the scene on Young Max (energetically performed by Aleksa Kurbalija) playing in the snow.
Old Max speaks fondly of these early memories, but then he hears young Max utter the dreaded C word. CHRISTMAS! With a growl and a shout, The Grinch stumbles ferociously out of his shack. Furious with Max, he begins to rant about the Whos down in Whoville and all their rotten cheer. The Grinch (an outstanding performance from Shuler Hensley), can hear the Whos singing their happy Christmas songs and it drives him mad, that is until he hatches a scheme to end Christmas for them all, complete with montage and the iconic song that we all know and love. As he goes about stealing Christmas from all the Who girls and Who boys, he accidentally wakes up young Cindy-Lou Who (well-portrayed by the young Presley Ryan). She touches his heart, he realizes the error of his ways, and he returns all the Christmas decorations. I mean, I don’t mean to spoil anything for you, but you’ve had over half a century to hear the story.
I don’t know where to start with this production. The songs were fun and energetic. The actors were wonderful. The set design was phenomenal. Costumes, as well. All of these things combined truly served to bring Dr. Seuss’ tale to life. Let’s start with the performance. Shuler Hensley as the Grinch seemed to be channeling Jim Carrey’s Grinch in the beginning, which was phenomenal, but then somewhere along the way I forgot Jim Carrey, because Hensley took that goofy, lanky Grinch and made it his own. Ken Land’s narration as Old Max was wonderful. I really enjoyed the idea of giving Max a voice. It added a little something to the show, furthered even more by Aleksa Kurbalija’s performance as the rambunctious young Max doing what his master says, but showing through dialogue that he knows it’s wrong. It adds another level of sweetness to this story. The Whos were all phenomenal, as well. The costuming (designed by Robert Morgan) was very well done. Capturing from the book’s imagery exactly what the Whos looked like, dressed like, and acted like. The Grinch’s costume, very similar to the film adaptation, was menacing but goofy at the same time. The set design (orchestrated by John Lee Beatty) was so simply and so brilliantly done. Just taking the images right from the book, and bringing them to life. It’s Dr. Seuss’ trademark scratchy art style 50 times it’s normal size. It was marvelous.
I really enjoyed this show. It warms my heart to see kids having fun in the theater. I would love to see the Broadway in Chicago people put on more shows geared toward kids because that’s where the passion for theatre starts. This show has sing-a-longs, fake snow being blasted into the crowd (if you’d like to avoid the snow zone, avoid the center of the main floor, but why wouldn’t you love it?), and moments where he asks the children for the answer. It is truly an adorable production that you should definitely bring your children to if they love the book. They will have a blast! I’m not even a parent and I had a great time. Maybe it’s because I’m just a big kid.
Highly Recommended (for families)
Date Reviewed: 11/20/14
Chicago Theatre; 175 N State St. Chicago, IL
The Grinch Who Stole Christmas: The Musical will be playing at the Chicago Theatre from November 20-November 29, 2014 with only 17 performances. Matinee performances on the 20,22,23,28,29 at 11 AM and 3 PM with night performances scheduled for the 20,21,22,23,25,26,28,29 at 7 PM. Tickets range from $35-$125 and can be purchased at the Chicago Theatre box office at www.thechicagotheatre.com/thegrinch or by calling (800) 745-3000