Perennial ‘Grinch’ steals show at Old Globe

by David Dixon

Courtesy of Henry Dirocco

It has been 14 years since “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” premiered at San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre. It would seem that after all this time, the Grinch (Steve Blanchard) would see the error of his anti-Christmas ways, or could have converted himself to Judaism and changed his name to the Mensch.

Alas, he is still that famous green “mean one” who despises the beloved holiday and the tiny people who cherish it, the Whos. Along with his hapless dog, Max (Logan Lipton), the Grinch attempts to stop Christmas from happening in Whoville.

Running at a relatively short 90 minutes, this popular musical continues as a charming Balboa Park tradition, mostly because of Timothy Mason’s timeless book and lyrics. While adding plenty of creative rhyming and humor, it still respects Seuss’ original story and includes many famous lines from the children’s classic. Even with a few deliberately corny jokes, the ensemble manages comedy that brings wall-to-wall smiling and laughter.

Blanchard has big shoes to fill by playing a character previously portrayed by acclaimed actor Patrick Page. The shoes fit comfortably for Blanchard, who puts his own touch on the “One of a Kind” individual, making his interpretation of the Grinch simultaneously sinister and blissfully silly.

Another standout performer is Caitlin McAuliffe as Cindy-Lou, the precious Who who seems to emotionally connect to the Grinch. While previous actresses who have played Cindy, such as Vanessa Hudgens, have been as young as 10 or 12, McAuliffe is only 8. Her rendition of the ballad “Santa for a Day” is heartfelt and touching.

Just as impressive as the acting is the Who-chestra. It is versatile in its sound, ranging from a short “Les Misérables”-like overture to the jazzy sounding “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” The band’s finest moments are its short musical interludes that are appropriate for an adaptation of a clever Seuss story.

Not only does the music, composed by Mel Marvin, sound very Seuss-esque, but John Lee Beatty’s scenic design is like seeing a life-sized Seuss illustration. The cartoonish look of Whoville has a joyful quality that adds to the festive playfulness of the production.

If any fault exists with “The Grinch” it is that there are too many reprises of musical numbers. While some songs never get old, the irresistibly cheerful group number “Who Likes Christmas?” is sung at least twice, while other tunes are needlessly repeated. One that comes to mind is “I Hate Christmas Eve,” in which the same exact lyrics the Grinch and Max sing are performed moments later by some of the Whos.

It almost feels blasphemous to criticize something so beloved, but even with a few too many reprises, “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” is still a delightfully enjoyable time. The inventive director, James Vasquez, has not deviated far from Jack O’Brien’s original direction, which is perfectly fine. “The Grinch” was a hit in 1998, and it continues to be great family friendly entertainment years later.

Tickets and information about “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” can be found at theoldglobe.org.

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