If I had to name my Top Five annual viewings of holiday classics, that list would include “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas”, “A Christmas Story”, “A Very Brady Christmas” and of course, “Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas!” After seeing “Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical”, onstage now through Sunday, December 25 at Nashville’s famed Grand Ole Opry House, I might have to alter my list, replacing the 1966 animated special with the spectacular live musical stage show.
Having first appeared in a 1957 holiday story featured in Redbook Magazine, and a subsequent anapestic meter-filled children’s book, Dr. Seuss’ “How The Grinch Stole Christmas!” truly achieved iconic holiday status nearly a decade later thanks to a collaboration between Dr Seuss himself (Dr. Theodore Geizel) and famed animator/director Chuck Jones of Warner Bros. “Looney Tunes” fame. In more recent years, there’s been a Grinch-surgence. While many attribute the current interest in the green meanie to Jim Carey’s 2000 film turn, the stage musical actually debuted two years before the non-musical Carey film. Since its theatrical debut, “Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical” has enjoyed a Broadway run and annual seasonal tours. Last year marked the first time Nashville was included in the holiday run and we are lucky to have it back once more.
As he did last year, Broadway star Stephen Bishop is once again grumping it up as The Grinch. With an energetic physicality reminiscent of the aforementioned Carey, Bishop takes the seemingly sinister, but eventually soft-hearted malcontent to next-level, show-stopping heights…and I’m not just talking his cave atop Mount Crumpit, high above Whoville. Bishop’s Grinch is frightfully delightful. It’s true, a few younger theatre-goers may have cried when he first appeared on stage during the performance I attended with my grand-nieces, but by show’s end those same youngsters were laughing and calling out his name in joy!
Having appeared as both the Beast and later, Gaston on Broadway in Disney’s “Beauty & the Beast”, Bishop showcases his vocal ability early in the show as he sets the stink, stank, stunk mood of The Grinch with “I Hate Christmas Eve”. Of course once he encounters the absolutely adorable Cindy Lou Who (Sami Bray, who shares the role with Delilah Rose Pellow) his demeanor begins to change, especially when Cindy Lou sings her ballad, “Santa for a Day”.
Kids of all ages will love and appreciate the faithful rhythmic nature of the dialogue and songs, which does a nice job of expanding, yet honoring, the original text upon which the work is based. With book and lyrics by Timothy Mason and music by composer Mel Marvin, the entire soundtrack possesses that very singsongy lyrical Seussian feel. Being a show designed with children, both young and old, in mind, the soundtrack frequently features a reprise or two, the perfect way to not only turn songs into earworms, but also a smart tool so as not to overwhelm younger audience members with too much new material. And Yes, the show contains the two beloved “Grinch” tunes, “Welcome Christmas” and “You’re a Mean on Mister Grinch” with lyrics by Geisel and music by Albert Hague (later know for his role as Mr. Shorofsky in both the TV and film versions of “Fame”).
Speaking of the show-stopping “You’re a Mean on Mister Grinch”, it comes midway through the 90-minute run-time, but it’s so worth the wait. Nashville’s own W. Scott Stewart. Starring for his second year as Old Max, The Grinch’s long-suffering dog, Stewart, with his deep booming voice also serves as narrator for the piece. Having seen Stewart in a number of Nashville-area productions over the years, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again…he could literally say or sing anything with that rich, warm voice and I’d listen for hours.
In a clever turn, Old Max steps out of the action as if watching his own memories while Aleksa Kurbalija romps and wiggles, wags his tail and tags along with The Grinch as Young Max. While the show if filled with great dance sequences, originally conceived by John DeLuca and choreographed on tour by choreographer/assistant director Bob Richard, some of the most fun choreography, or should I say…’tail-ography’ comes courtesy of Kurbalija and Stewart.
Stewart isn’t the only Nashvillian, er, make that Whovillian in “The Grinch”. Those familiar with Music City’s ever-burgeoning musical theatre scene will no doubt recognize the virtual who’s who of Nashvillians in Whoville. Among those sharing a hometown connection are Mia Rose Lynn as Mama Who, Vicki White (returning for her second year) as Grandma Who and Christopher Strand as Grandpa Who, as well as supporting Whovians Catherine Birdsong, Casey Hebbel, Corinne Bupp, Millicent Martin, Isaac Brotzman, Allison Little, Neely Scott, Corbin Williams and young Rosemary Gaudreau (who’s sharing the role of Annie Who alongside Ohio native Scarlett Hicks). Heck, even the Grinch Orchestra headed by Anthony De Angelis is peppered with Nashville musicians.
Of course there’s plenty of non-Nashville talent featured, too. Josh Houghton plays Papa Who, Dion Montez Jarrett, Karma Jenkins, Mark Andrew Garner, Schuyler Midgett, Cody Knable, James D. Schultz and Amanda Mae Steele all manage to steal your eye away from The Grinch from time to time with their wonderful voices, energetic energy and far-out wigs and costumes courtesy two-time Drama Desk Award nominee costumer Robert Morgan.
Speaking of the trippy, dippy look of “Grinch”, scenic designer John Lee Beatty’s set pieces add the perfect whimsical, Seussical touch. Brightly colored costumes, familiar characters, recognizable set pieces, cherished songs and a handful of whistle-worthy new tunes, at the talented hands and voices of a wonderful cast, all come together to make “Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical” a perfectly marvelous new classic holiday tradition.
It’s all there, from The Grinch’s evil plot to steal all the presents from Whoville while sweet Cindy Lou Who and her Who family chant the familiar “fahoo fores, dahoo dores, welcome Christmas come this way”, to Max begrudgingly donning a stolen antler and leading Grinch’s getaway sleigh across the sky (one of the show’s coolest technical moments). All your favorite Grinch moments and quotable quotes like “Well, in Whoville they say that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day. And then the true meaning of Christmas came through, and the Grinch found the strength of ten Grinches, plus two!” are not only included, but brilliantly, blissfully, beautifully brought to life!
The show continues with performances through Sunday, December 25 at The Grand Ole Opry House (2804 Opryland Drive, Nashville, TN 37214). Tickets range in price from $24.99 to $89.99. Children three and under are admitted free with a paid adult admission and must sit on their accompanying adult’s lap. Showtimes vary by day. Click Here or call 615.889.1000 to purchase tickets. For more information about “Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical”, Click Here or Follow The Grinch on Facebook. Not in Nashville? No problem. Similar touring productions of the show are currently on stage across the country in New Orleans, Durham, Cleveland and Washington, DC. Click Here for dates and ticketing info.
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