Dr Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas!

Nov 28 2019 | By More

★★★☆☆    Festive

Festival Theatre: Tue 26 Nov – Sat 1 Dec 2019
Review by Hugh Simpson

The touring version of Dr Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical is a suitably frothy confection for the upcoming festivities; not particularly full of nutrition but oddly irresistible all the same.

The story of the Christmas-phobic Grinch and his attempts to ruin the festive season for the inhabitants of Whoville is now regarded as a longstanding tradition. This may be so in America, but it is only since the 2000 Jim Carrey movie that it has truly become universally known over here.

Philip Huffman as The Grinch in the 2016 Tour

The story by Dr Seuss is comparatively slight, and not one of his anarchic best, but has a suitably cheery Christmas message and now boasts several versions.

This particular one has a horribly unwieldy official title, and does occasionally have the air of a cash-in designed by a committee. In the end, however, the sheer brute force of its staging and intent overcomes what are-admittedly serious obstacles.

Much of the pre-production publicity centred on the appearance on this stage of the tour of the estimable Gregor Fisher. But he is, by his own admission, a glorified warm-up act – doing nothing more than reading the beginning of the story before curtain-up and then disappearing completely, looking somewhat nonplussed.

little point

Since the story is explained at length subsequently, with Old Max the dog acting as a narrator, there seems little point to his appearing at all. Like the extended interval, the overlong second-act overture and much of the redundant panto-style additions to the dialogue, the whole thing smacks a little of padding out a show that just scrapes the two-hour mark.

The 2016 touring company of Dr Seuss How The Grinch Stole Christmas the Musical

Something, of course, has to be done to make a full-length show from a short book, and there is undoubtedly the odd moment where this seems stretched out. However, the songs largely work well and the huge ensemble fill the stage, with Robert Morgan’s costume design, John Lee Beatty’s scenic design and John DeLuca and Bob Richard’s choreography particularly pleasing.

There is a Broadway-by-numbers feel to some of it that impresses rather than charms, but there is certainly enough happening onstage throughout to retain the attention. Edward Baker-Duly’s Grinch is a particular delight, milking every opportunity for attention and displaying wonderful comic timing. There is an undoubted Carreyesque flavour to the characterisation but he certainly manages to make the role his own.

The splitting of the role of the Grinch’s dog Max into younger and older versions, often on stage together, is a peculiar theatrical device that does not always work. Old Max, who is played by Griff Rhys Jones in other sections of the tour, is here performed by Steve Fortune, and it is difficult to imagine anyone doing it better.

There is a genuine warmth and easy charm to his performance that Matt Terry, the 2016 X Factor winner, struggles to match as the younger version. Terry is a good singer and does not lack for effort but does not have the presence Fortune brings to the role.

genuinely compelling

What really carries the production along is the energy of the ensemble. There is a snap and togetherness to the collected inhabitants of Whoville that is genuinely compelling. There is also a fine line negotiated between the effervescent and the annoying that stops just short of creating sympathy for the Grinch’s plans to ruin their fun; it does, however, reinforce the anti-consumerist thrust of the narrative while still presenting the characters as essentially endearing.

The 2016 touring company of How The Grinch Stole Christmas the Musical

That so much stress is placed in the programme credits on the originators of the production (Jack O’Brien is credited as original director’ and Matt August as ‘Broadway and UK director’) does add to the whiff of franchise about proceedings. But the show does run like a well-oiled machine.

This is particularly borne out by the character of Cindy Lou, the youngster who sees the hidden side of the Grinch; to integrate four different young performers into the production must be difficult but the joins simply cannot be seen. On this occasion the thoroughly impressive Bebe Massey took the role (the other actors are Isla Gie, Sophie Woods and Elle Corbishley) and threatened to steal the show on more than one occasion, as well as meshing wonderfully with a superbly drilled ensemble.

stand-out song

Timothy Mason’s book and lyrics and Mel Marvin’s music are serviceable enough, but it is noticeable that the stand-out song is You’re A Mean One, Mr Grinch, composed by Albert Hague, which has been around since the 1960s US TV version.

There are definitely moments here where all concerned are trying just too hard to create a seasonal classic. Any hints of cynicism, however, are blown away in the end by a high-octane, thoroughly likeable production that may not be profound but has oodles of Christmas cheer.

Running time: Two Hours (including one interval)
Festival Theatre 13/29 Nicolson Street EH8 9FT. Phone booking: 0131 529 6000
Tuesday 26 November – Saturday 1 December 2019
Evenings: Tue – Sat: 7.30pm.
Matinees: Fri: 2.30pm; Sat: 11am & 2.30pm; Sun: 1pm & 4pm.

Tickets and details: Book here.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas on tour:
26 Nov – 1 Dec 2019 Edinburgh
Festival Theatre
0131 529 6000 Book online
3 – 7 Dec 2019 Birmingham
The Alexandra Theatre
0844 871 3011 Book online
10 Dec 2019 – 5 Jan 2020 Salford
Lowry Theatre
08432 086000 Book online


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