There are plenty of people out there that may argue a Christmas musical should not open until after Thanksgiving. But after the year and a half we’ve had, an early dose of Christmas spirit is exactly what we need. And thanks to director Matt August’s production of “Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical,” The National Theatre is bringing an extra sprinkling of holiday cheer to Washington DC.
Based on Dr. Seuss’ 1957 book (and the later 1966 short film of the same name), “Dr. Suess’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical” tells the story of the grumpy Grinch (James Schultz) and his hatred for the Christmas-loving Whos. However, unlike the original story, the musical is narrated by Old Max (W. Scott Stewart) as he reminisces about that fateful night down in Whoville.
From the moment the curtain opens, you can’t help but be happy. Full of peppermint stripes and sparkly Christmas baubles, the set is inspired by Seuss’ original illustrations. Whos dressed head to toe in red, white, and pink bows and ruffles fill the stage for their its-so-catchy-I’ll-be-singing-it-for-days opening number, “Who Likes Christmas?”
As the show progresses, it quickly becomes clear that there is more to this production than the original story. Plot points are thickened, and while the story is definitely still Grinch-focused, the musical adds a richer and deeper background for other characters, like the energetic, cartwheeling Young Max (Xavier McKight) and the citizens of Whoville. Stewart and McKnight get their moment to shine in their jazzy number “This Time of Year” as Stewart belts out a surprising string of rich, bluesy notes. Audiences also get to see more of Whoville and the adorable Cindy-Lou Who (alternating between Sofie Nesanelis and Quinn Titcomb) in the chaotic, colorful number “It’s the Thought That Counts.”
In comparison to the sky-high hair and curly-toes shoes of the Whos, the Grinch is well deserving of his “cuddly as a cactus” status. From the moment his long green fingers emerge around the side of his cave, Schultz captures that seasick crocodile energy one would expect from the Grinch. But he also manages to play to the audience and connect to younger viewers, adding a layer of depth and refreshing definition to the character. While Schultz slithers around shoving trees and roast beast up chimneys, Stewart begins his rendition of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” capturing all the charm of its original counterpart. When paired with the kazoo-blowing, ever-trusting Whos, the entertainment value of this production is sky high.
But by far the most impressive part of the production is the tech of the show. As the Grinch rides his sleigh down the side of Mount Crumpit, set and lighting designers John Lee Beatty and Charlie Morrison create a visual spectacle that is somehow both very realistic and very reminiscent of the original cartoon animation at the same time. Costume designer Robert Morgan manages a refreshing take on the idea of Whoville fashion while still maintaining the original integrity of the over the top style.
Although the production is clearly targeted towards younger children, it’s charming enough that adults will be entertained. There is admittedly less subtle adult humor than other adaptations that have been made over the years, but with a run time of only 85 minutes with no intermission, it’s a feel-good way to kick off the holiday season.
“Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical” will run at The National Theatre in Washington DC through December 5. Tickets can be purchased here.
Feature Photo Credit: Philip Huffman as The Grinch and the 2016 Touring Company of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical.