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Theater review: 'How the Grinch Stole Christmas!' at the Pantages Theatre

November 16, 2009 |  2:45 pm

Aww, the Grinch is just an old softy.

OK, yeah, you know that already because as a child you, with someone you loved, flipped through the wild rhymes and even wilder illustrations of the original Dr. Seuss book "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" and as an adult you, with someone you love, still make appointment viewing of the Chuck Jones animated special. Heartwarming as they are, those versions also convey a hint of menace – enough bad behavior to convincingly set up the Grinch's conversion to goodness once faced with the true spirit of Christmas. But in the stage extravaganza visiting Hollywood's Pantages Theatre this holiday season, the Grinch is harmless from the start.

That's good news if you intend to bring a young one who might easily be scared by the Grinch at his Grinch-iest, bad if you're a traditionalist who likes a Grinch with some bite. I ended up in both camps because, while I prefer some bite, I attended with a 12-year-old and a just-turned-3-year-old who sat pretty much squirm-free through the 80-minute presentation.

In keeping with its family orientation, this cuddly live version also supplies twice as much of grudgingly obedient dog Max: a graying Max who narrates the story and his puppyish younger self during the long-ago events. There's also more face time for the families of Who-ville, who, like those in the audience, are made giddy – and slightly crazy – by the holidays.

Shag-carpeted in green fur, the Grinch, as portrayed by "Lazy Town's" Stefan Karl (replacing the originally announced Christopher Lloyd), is first seen in what can only be described as a Bette Davis pose: haughtily draped across the entrance to his cave, his lips stretched into a sideways frown. Playfully over-the-top from the get-go, he's soon stalking the lip of the stage, pointing to the front rows and challenging: "You want a piece 'a me? C'mon, put 'em up."

The old and young Maxes ("Night Court" and "The Practice's" John Larroquette as the former, James Royce Edwards as the latter) are outfitted with stiff, curlicued tails reminiscent of Bert Lahr's in "The Wizard of Oz," which sway with merry abandonment. Larroquette delivers "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" – one of two key songs by Albert Hague and Dr. Seuss that have been retained from the 1966 animated special – in a deep, gravelly voice that befits a dog but likely won't lead to an upcoming appearance on "America's Got Talent."

This "Grinch" is a holiday tradition at San Diego's Old Globe, where it is about to begin its 12th year, and was glitzed to Broadway proportions for New York in 2006 and '07.

In its expansion to full-on musical, the story is given eight gooey-sweet songs by composer Mel Marvin and lyricist Timothy Mason (who's also the script writer) that too often feel like padding. Fairly entertaining, however, are a Grinch nightmare of screaming kids and their noisy presents, and a one-man production number, complete with solo kick-line, for the hammy Grinch.

A handful of scenes go on a minute or two too long, triggering fidgetiness in kids. The 3-year-old with me sat rapt until the show's final 10 minutes, when, as 6:30 approached, she was late into her day and becoming owlish about everything. As we gathered our things, the 12-year-old ran a checklist of costumes, dancing and singing, and declared, "It was all good." (While I was misting up during the Grinch's humanizing encounter with Cindy-Lou Who, I'd looked over at her and could have sworn she was wiping something from the sides of her nose, but she vigorously denied this afterward.)  

As for me: Well, even though my theater-geek side felt a tad undernourished, it must be admitted that, like the protagonist, "In Who-ville they say / That the Grinch's small heart / Grew three sizes that day!"

– Daryl H. Miller

"Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. Performance schedule varies, but includes 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; and weekend performances at 11 a.m., 2 p.m., 5 p.m. or 8 p.m. Ends Jan. 3. $25 to $100. (800) 982-2787 or www.BroadwayLA.org. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.  

Comments () | Archives (7)

I saw the Saturday 2:00 showing of the Grinch, it was "fun" but I did seem to think that John Larroquette acted as though he would rather have been anywhere else but on that stage. Very disappointed in that old dog Max.

this review is FAR too charitable.

the production reaked of corniness. underwhelming lyrics and orchestrations from start to finish. the songs are far worse than "padding" - they are monotonous, endless, entirely without value.

the play could really stand to lose at least 15 minutes.

and, this is strictly for children only. any adults who are wondering - will there be nostalgic fun for grown-ups? sadly, no, there will not.

the three words that best describe this show are, and i quote: "Stink. Stank. Stunk."

"How the Grinch Stole Christmas" is one of my all-time favorite Christmas cartoon specials...I have it on DVD. I had heard about the live stage show version years back in San Diego, but never made it down there to see it. So I was thrilled to hear that Broadway L.A. would be doing it at the Pantages in Hollywood.

Well, I guess I'm the Grinch this year as I just didn't like it. At all. I just think when you take something that iconic, you need to keep it true to the source. When you expand a 26 minute TV cartoon into 90 minutes, you need to be very careful that all the added material is necessary and enjoyable. I didn't feel that any of the extra 64 minutes were at ALL necessary, and not all that enjoyable.

Most of the expansion (and I use that term loosely) is about Grinch himself. OK, he's the title character. But there is no explanation about why the Grinch is mean or why he hates Christmas. Instead they add production numbers singing about being mean and hating Christmas. We already know that don't we?

Very little is done with the people of Who-ville. They come off as more cartoon character than the characters in the original cartoon are. Stuart Zagnit, who plays Grandpa Who, plays it like Pappy Yokum in "Li'l Abner." The little girl who plays Cindy-Lou Who (there are two casts of children, but no indication as to which cast you're seeing) delivers her dialogue like John Moschitta (the fast talker from the tv commercials). No approximation of the lovable Cindy-Lou from the cartoon. I fault the director for that. Sit the girl down in front of the tv and show her the cartoon! Show her how to slow her sentences down instead of spitting them out at top speed so that they're almost unintelligible.

They have added the character of "Old Max," played by John Larroquette like he's loathing every minute onstage. Did he know he was going to be in a dog suit when he signed his contract? On top of that, he's not much of a singer, and unfortunately gets to sing the famous title song (there were only 2 songs in the original cartoon, both are in the show). If you'll remember, Max is the Grinch's dog. He's a little brown chihuahua or something. In the musical, he's a giant sheep dog half-breed of some sort, black and white in color. John Larrouquette plays Max as an old dog (now gray and white) and the whole show is a flashback. So instead of the enchanting voice-over narration we get in the cartoon, we now have John Larroquette blundering through his lines. It was almost as if he wished he too had quit the show like Christopher Lloyd who was originally announced to play the Grinch.

Of the 8 new songs written by Timothy Mason and Mel Marvin (who?!), only one stands out...Cindy-Lou's ballad "Santa For a Day," and even then, it's mediocre at best.

Some of the ensemble vocal work in the show was really shoddy and out of tune. That would be acceptable for a community theater production but not for a union production with top dollar ticket prices.

The one saving grace is the set, which looked like it was plucked right out of the cartoon...for the most part.

Unlike "Seussical," this show works to some degree and certainly the children in the audience seemed to enjoy it. I'm not so sure it was the same for a lot of the adults as many of the jokes fell flat with just a few snickers and many of the songs ended with only mild applause.

Coming up on Broadway L.A.'s season is the stage musical of "100 Dalmations."

Oh no.

I'm an avid Dr. Seuss and Animated Grinch lover, and I LOVED it.

It's true that the Whos down in Whoville lacked some charm. They are far to frantic to ever be lovable with the exception of Grandpa Who played by Stuart Zagnit who delivers in his portrayal the childlike qualities of Dr. Seuss´s characters. On the other hand Stefan Karl as the Grinch is right out phenomenal!
The scene between Grinch and Cindy-Lou Who is touching and brings forth the core of this delightful Christmas tale.
The review above is neither here or there and somewhat miserly.
My entire family enjoyed the show!

I really enjoyed the show too! I agree with you Darryl that the Grinch was a little softer in the play version, but I personally thought that if he was scarier than kids would have been frightened by him. My only gripe was that I thought the Whoville musical numbers were a tad monotonous at times. Overall, Karl's high energy performance drove the play through and made it a treat to enjoy. I highly recommend it for families across LA to see.

If anyone is interested, I wrote a more formal review about the show on my blog: http://mylifeasawannabejournalist.blogspot.com/2009/11/who-likes-plays-whos-like-plays.html

I've seen both shows and I think it makes a big difference with the Cindy Lous as it is the little girl's portrayal that will either warm your heart or leave the theater feeling bored.. I'll have to say that the White Cast children (Issadora Tulalian as Cindy Lou) was a lot better than the Red Cast (Kayley Stallings). The Cindy Lou in the Red cast was very bland (acting wise), in both singing and acting alike in fact. The Cindy Lou in the White cast was very charismatic and animated and I truly enjoyed watching this little girl run around the stage and most especially in singing her song to the Grinch, not to mention for a tiny little girl, she had quite a voice in her.

Overall, I thought the show was great although the props weren't the same as the one used at the Hilton Theater which is understandably so being that the LA production is using the tour props.

John L. wasn't so bad, he was quite funny in fact and so as Stefan Karl which is hilarious.

Btw, Eric Andrist, which show did you see? I saw the opening 11/14 (Red cast) and again on 11/29 (White cast) and I must say that John L.'s performance has improved quite a bit since the opening. I thought they should've made the White cast open the show as the kids in this cast seem to be a lot more talented, not to mention that 2 of them were the winners of the Who contest.


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