Reviewed by Chris Cassone - firstname.lastname@example.org
Fresh from LA ComicCon with all of its cosplay, I was somewhat prepared for a repeat performance Wednesday evening at the palatial Pantages. As I approached the theater with a giant crowd milling about, mostly looking for non-existent spare tickets, I did a double take at all the Grinch wear. Little kids, Dad and Mom, the merch was everywhere - even green face paint. Was this some Rocky Horror time warp?
It was the glorious opening night for the traveling production of
"How the Grinch Stole Christmas" and excitement was in the air. The art deco theater welcomed one of many travelling companies of the Grinch, crisscrossing the country all year long. And 2703 patrons were elated with everything this production had to offer. With plenty of children in the audience, the prerequisite cell phone announcement by the Grinch himself had the kids screaming. This was going to be fun. And for 85 straight minutes, we were treated to a highly polished, very professional, extremely enjoyable musical story of the madcap Grinch who just dislikes everything. His transformation, at the hands of a show-stopping toddler, makes the show so human, even a tear or two was seen on this reviewer's face.
When most of your review work encompasses 99-seater short-run productions, a splashy spine-tingling, chorus-filled musical is heaven. Not that I don't cherish the small black box theaters and their shows full of hope, but it is almost an evangelical experience to hear a stage full of twenty-one singers in constant movement and in choir-like harmony. The pit was filled with twenty top musicians who gave us a soundtrack that was award-winning, and no tune ever sounded the same.
There was no doubt who the crowd came for (and ponied up ticket costs as high as $500.) He teased us with his voice from his cave-like home and when he finally appeared, you'd have thought a rock star walked on. And for good reason. I couldn't take my eyes off him. Joshua Woodie's Grinch was so original yet harkened to many cultural heroes. He was part Cowardly Lion, part Beetlejuice, part Edward Scissorhands, part Joker and part Ray Bolger's Scarecrow. This was no Jim Carrey cartoony Grinch. No, our Grinch had sharp edges. His delivery, his timing and his great bodily movements created a character that we wanted to hate but was so endearingly warm at heart you knew that he couldn't believe all his meanness.
While the dynamo of the Grinch spun around the stage, the Who's of Whoville waddled, bounced and spun themselves, ever positive, ever colorful and, again, in constant motion. Nothing stayed still on this stage. The palette of pinks had a soothing effect and the rascally Grinch and his sidekick, Max the dog, offset them with their evil green and black. Most of the young Who's reminded me of the kids in the Mary Martin "Peter Pan," as they scooted around the stage in line as one. At one point, the Grinch pops his head out of the top corner of the proscenium and proceeds to slide down to the floor, fireman-on-a-pole style - a breath-catching effect.
Then there is Cindy-Lou Who, the innocent youngster with a heart of gold who melts the Grinch, triggers his conversion and helps his "heart grow two sizes larger." We will hear much more from Aerina DeBoer as she had a significant role with a sizeable part. She sang her little heart out and never once seemed like she was acting. Old Max (W. Scott Stewart), our narrator who told the story in the past tense including himself as Young Max (Brian Cedric Jones), the Grinch's toady, was a comfort. When he spoke, heck, when they all spoke, it was in Seuss-talk or anapestic tetrameter (think "'Twas the Night...") and there is an enjoyment in the poetry. You know where it's going and you can usually predict the last word. This makes it so easy to understand the dialogue. But poets know what they're doing and their expectant meter has an unconscious effect on the listener.
The production kept us off guard with its constant changing, even adding caroling puppets, à la the Muppet Show. When our Grinch makes his transition and starts to return the presents, his sleigh in the sky was a great special effect, as was the snow that fell upon our shoulders. And don't forget the Grinch in disguise, once as a cowboy, again as a secret agent. Clever and adorable.
This is true family entertainment. In an age when we stand to lose our teens to TikTok, I defy you to bring your rebellious child to this production. Everyone is touched and everyone leaves with a heart two sizes larger.