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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.  

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