Chicago Theatre. Book and lyrics by Timothy Mason. Music by Mel Marvin. Directed by Matt August. With Shuler Hensley. Running time: 1hr 30mins; no intermission.
Theater review by Suzanne Scanlon
It’s slightly surreal to enter the landmark Chicago Theatre if you are, like me, more accustomed to the drafty charm of Chicago’s modest storefront theaters. This corporate-sponsored touring show of a Madison Square Garden production is an entirely different animal; you might notice this merely in the ticket price, or the details of an excessive production budget (snow over the audience! shooting streamers!) for this rendition of the 2006 musical. How the Grinch Stole Christmas was one of my favorite childhood holiday stories, but I’ll admit to entering the theater with some skepticism—does Dr. Seuss’s genius, so linked to the simplicity of word and image, really need a high-powered Broadway musical version? (The script even makes an attempt to take a swipe at consumerism—as if).
And yet. Soon enough, I let my inner Grinch go, and allowed the boisterous piece to work on me. It's not a musical for the ages (the book is, and the television show endures, too), but, at its best, the music and lyrics of Mel Martin and Timothy Mason channel Dr. Seuss’s spirit of smart whimsy. (The most successful songs come straight from the original television program, including "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch".) I loved the Seuss-inspired costume design by Robert Morgan: odd angled coattails and dresses, bubble skirts and geometric hair-styles. Bob Richard's choreography, too, transmutes Seuss’s wee Whos into appropriately bouncing, bobbling sort-of-human beings.
Ultimately, though, the whole thing works as a star vehicle for Shuler Hensley, masterful here as the bawdy, complicated Grinch: he's a hard to dislike villain, even as he attempts to be scary and, well, awful. The whole thing runs 90 minutes without an intermission, which turns out to be plenty of time to win over the kiddos (my seven-year-old companion awards it five stars, if that’s indication of target-audience appeal).