Saturday, November 26, 2011

Theatre review: "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical" at Benedum Center

You might think that a show whose title and timing suggests commercial exploitation of this season would be standard and obvious. But, actually, the traveling version of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical, to lay out the whole cumbersome title, looks, sounds and feels like an absolute charmer.

I imagine the concept and the story have become well known by now, yet it’s fresh to me. So I can’t offer an opinion on how well it does with the original source, the book, the animated film nor the Jim Carrey movie. But with the wonderful Stefan Karl starring as the Mean One, this package comes loaded with delights, including, front and center, attractive, melodious songs by Timothy Mason, Mel Marvin, Albert Hague and Dr. Seuss himself. Moreover the clever Seuss-style costumes and sets by Robert Morgan and John Lee Beatty as well as Matt August’s snappy direction give the whole thing loads of style and personality. This is all augmented by special effects, puppets and jolly moments encouraging audience participation.

Karl’s playing of The Grinch explores a delightful range of implications, intonations and non- verbal sounds, making the creature sincerely, wildly distressed but not nasty enough to be despicable. The result comes across as something any adult will enjoy while any kid will find neither scary nor silly. Plus director August’s staging has funny little twists that reach across all age boundaries.

Seth Bazacas give the Grinch’s dog Max just the right sense of a happy, innocent companion while, on opening night, Bailey Ryon bubbled with professional aplomb as the inevitable little girl who could steal your heart. But she never overdid it. FYI: the role is double cast, Clara Young also has the role.

Interestingly, I learned from Wikipedia that some critics of Seuss’ book take issue with his criticizing the commercialization of Christmas. Most of us would applaud that. I do. Here such an observation is very brief. Quote: “Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe it means a little bit more.” Right on Doctor. Let’s cheer that and all the other things that make this a good, simple, sweet story well told.

The traveling version of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical is at Benedum Center downtown through Sunday November 27th at 6: 30 p.m.
412-456-6666 or

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