Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
In San Diego, Christmastime is marked by the lights hung in the palm trees and chances are greater that we’ll see white caps rather than white snow on Christmas Day.
Another perennial tradition has also been taking place in America’s Finest City: Dr. Suess’ "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." Now in its 15th year, this Christmas classic runs through December 29 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park.
The Grinch (Steve Blanchard) is a cantankerous soul whose heart is two sizes too small and lives in a cave high above Whoville. The three things the Grinch despises most are the Who people of Whoville, the Who children, and Christmas.
Steve Gunderson plays the older version of Max, the Grinch’s dog and narrator of the show, who returns to Whoville and reminisces about the year the Grinch finally gave up his humbug ways. Jason Edward Cook plays the young Max, filled with puppy love, excitement, and enthusiasm for the time of year.
When the Grinch devises a plan to steal Christmas from all of the Whos in Whoville, he unwittingly crosses paths with Cindy-Lou Who (9-year-old Caitlin McAuliffe), the young girl who shows the Grinch kindness and begins to warm his ice-cold heart. With time running out until all of the Whos of Whoville awake to a stolen Christmas, can the Grinch make everything right again and share in the Christmas joy (and feast) the Whos have been working so hard to create?
Timothy Mason, who wrote the book and lyrics for "Grinch," did well in reaching a broad audience. His adaptation manages to create a compelling storyline that is easily understood by a younger audience but weaves in humor that attracts their parents as well. The kids in the audience squealed with delight but the big laughs still came from the big kids in the audience. In this show, everyone was a kid for the night.
Blanchard was superb as the Grinch, delineating between his sour persona and a host of celebrity impressions nailing every single one from Elvis to Robert Who-let. He milked every second he was in the spotlight and found every sliver of humor. He was detestable but still strangely huggable heavy turned hero.
Cook, as Young Max, had an infectious energy about him. As the puppy sidekick, and antithesis, to the Grinch, I was half expecting him to come down into the audience for a belly scratch, but instead his character stayed on stage and was a nice contrast to the loud and harsh tone struck by the Grinch early on in the show.
The best performance of the night was Phil Johnson’s Grandpa Who. An important but not central figure to the plot, every second of Johnson’s performance was mined for comedy right down to his slow, shuffling walk, which I never grew tired of. I found myself fixated on his nuanced performance several times throughout the evening and watched studiously just to see the quirks he built into his character.
Of course McAuliffe’s Cindy-Lou Who helped create the magic of this story and was the inspiration for the Grinch’s heart suddenly growing three sizes. Charming although hard to hear at times, she quietly stole the spotlight.
Bringing to life the creativity of Dr. Seuss and his artwork is no small feat so the Globe brought in a veteran and award-winning scenic designer in John Lee Beatty. The contrast in colors, coupled with the beautiful costuming by Robert Morgan, was exquisitely dramatic and was everything one would expect when Seuss is brought to life.
A wonderful kick-off to a theatre season full of holiday cheer, The Old Globe’s continuing tradition of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" has a little bit for everyone but is sure to delight families and the little ones this year and for years to come.
For parents of children who are autistic, a special autism friendly performance will take place on Saturday, December 15 at 10:30 a.m. A pre-show visit to The Old Globe will also be offered so children and their parents can familiarize themselves with the theatre and Balboa Park and online teaching tools will be made available to discuss with children on the spectrum what they may encounter during the show.