Genre: Broadway Musical
The air is getting chilly, Starbucks has toasted white mocha on the menu and the Grinch's arrival usually says it's time for Christmas! After this past weekend, however, I must disagree. "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" is the sort of thing that dominates the winter season. Whether you read Dr. Seuss' classic children's book or watched the 2000 film adaptation starring Jim Carrey, the Grinch is someone who you've most likely encountered before. So, when I was given the opportunity to see "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical" as it drove through Charlotte, I figured that it would, at the very least, bring me out of the spooky and into the jolly.
Unfortunately, I soon found that this show was not for my demographic. If you're not a parent or a child under the age of 10, I recommend skipping this show altogether. The kids in the audience talked back to the actors and tittered throughout the show, shouting out at the stage as though they were watching "Dora the Explorer" in their own living room. But, to fully understand the dismal rating, I should explain the story behind this version of one of the holiday's most beloved characters.
The show opened with an older man on stage. Well, not really an old man but rather an old dog. This man/dog was Max, the Grinch's pet. Old Max looked back on how his life once was, narrating the tale as it unfolded before the audience's eyes. Old Max then introduced his younger self, who was portrayed by the most energetic and giddy actor I've ever seen. Young Max is the sort of performer who would make a phenomenal "Spongebob Squarepants." He has the kind of acting and dancing potential that seems wasted in the confines of "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical." Watching him give this show his all was like seeing Idina Menzel acting on a Disney cruise.
Regardless, Young Max and Old Max sang the song "This Time of Year," in which they revealed the great joys of the holiday season. At that point, it was clear that the little ones in the audience were getting antsy, awaiting their favorite character. Finally, after waiting through two agonizing songs, the kids lost their minds as the Grinch made his entrance. The Grinch's costume looked like a suit made of shrubbery thrown over a fake stomach, and his face was painted in a shade of yellowish-green that stuck out like a sore thumb. As for the Grinch's attitude, think Michael Keaton in "Beetlejuice."
Young Max was tasked with the impossible goal of being the Grinch's conscience. Interestingly, although Young Max could not see or hear Old Max, the Grinch interacted often with the crooked, old dog. It felt like breaking the fourth wall but in a way that didn't serve the narrative much. The musical numbers picked up the pace after the Grinch took the stage and actively shirked all of Old and Young Max's warnings. Unfortunately, all of this energy went in a strange direction.
The people of Whoville, or "Whos," love Christmas—even more so than the characters in Hallmark movies. The Who children, of course, are no exception. The little Who voices were incredibly high-pitched and almost shrill by design. The concept was to show just how spoiled kids can become when they get everything they want. That certainly came across, but it was not enjoyable to witness. However, props must be given to the casting director and choreographer, who were able to incorporate a young Who with a wheelchair seamlessly. This young actor's chair was part of the dance routine, and the actor was given spotlight moments of their own. Other than this creative endeavor, the routine was loud, noisy, chaotic and far too overstimulating for anyone who's used to Broadway shows like "Wicked" and "Aladdin."
After the Whos finished their song, a large two-dimensional cityscape took over the stage. With a set that was extremely reminiscent of the Dr. Seuss rides at Universal Studios facing the audience, the theatre grew still. Suddenly, a few dozen puppets popped up from behind the scenery and began to serenade the Grinch. I was, once again, reminded that this play was not for me or my age demographic.
Following this ballad, the Whos once again made an appearance. Their fake stomachs were cheesy and goofy; truly the tiptop of a ridiculous spectacle. The thing that I noticed with each musical number was that they could each stand alone. Although the songs correlated with the story, not much background was needed to know what was happening. And, unfortunately, almost none of the songs were catchy or interesting. As I expected, the only enjoyable number was "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch." Old Max sure did sing the hell out of that song, though!
The Who mother and Cindy Lou Who had the most impressive performances. Mother Who's voice was fit for an audience that would actually enjoy a power ballad rather than use that time to take a bathroom break, as so many of the younger audience members did. Sure, the scenery was whimsical and, as the Grinch and Young Max flew through the air, there were clever mechanisms in place to make it look like the pair were soaring over the stage, but the overall effect of "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical" was underwhelming.
The story wrapped up as Old Max walked off into the distance and Young Max took over as narrator. The Grinch's heart grew several sizes, and the Grinch called out to the audience, effectively tearing down the barrier between the actors and the audience. He pointed at specific audience members, calling out the mezzanine, the box seats and just about every bouncing kiddo who was chomping at the bit to be a part of the show.
If you would like to see this touring Broadway spectacle for yourself, keep in mind that there are several instances of flashing lights, strobe lights, fake snow falling from the ceiling and a confetti cannon at the very end of the show. Masks are still required, and food and drinks aren't allowed in the theatre.
Would I watch this show again? No. Would I take a Christmas-loving little one to watch it? If the tickets were paid for, maybe!