I’ll say one thing for this seasonal holiday stage production of Dr. Seuss’ classic children’s tale…it isn’t anywhere near as bad as the dreadful 2000 movie version with Jim Carrey. It does engage in one of the movie’s worst habits…using the Whos for comedic business mocking the materialism of Christmas.
This is, of course the exact opposite of what they should be doing, but it’s such a tempting way to pad the show’s scant thirty minutes worth of plot into a full-length musical that they did it anyway. Fortunately, the stage version at least keeps this element in check to the point where the Whos’ declaration that the trappings of Christmas don’t ultimately matter comes off as something they’ve always known instead of a sudden about-face as it did in the movie.
And it avoids the two other biggest mistakes the movie made…casting Jim Carrey as the Grinch and encouraging him to do his usual schtick rather than play the character, and giving the Grinch a backstory that makes his hatred of the Whos seem completely justified.
The problem with the stage version is that there just doesn’t seem to be much point to it. It’s a much tighter, less problematic adaptation of Seuss than Flaherty and Ahrens’ Seussical: The Musical, but Seussical, with its creative combination of multiple Seuss stories and its wonderful score that sounded like Seuss’ language and atmosphere synthesized into music, seemed to have much more valid reason for adapting the material.
This show’s score is acceptable but bland, and it really adds nothing to the material anyway. This is compounded by the fact that the songs from the original animated special are retained…when you hear the underpowered “Who Likes Christmas?” right next to the exquisite “Welcome Christmas”, or the Grinch’s would-be-showstopping Villain Song, “One of a Kind” next to the quintessential villain song of all time, “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”, it just highlights their weaknesses. The sugary ballad for Cindy Lou Who, “Santa For a Day”, is a significant improvement on its equivalent in the live-action film, “Where Are You, Christmas?”, but it’s still far too sentimental and inspirational for its own good. And those numbers are the highlights of the score!
The show did achieve one boon with the casting of John Cullum as the narrator in its first Broadway production…after all, if anyone can outdo Thurl Ravenscroft on “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”, it’s Cullum, considering that slimy villain songs in a deep baritone are essentially his bread and butter. But even Cullum’s presence couldn’t disguise the production’s total lack of any inspiration or idea beyond the possibility of milking money out of the holiday market.
This isn’t a terrible show, but the fact that it exists does constitute something of an insult to those of us who see Seuss’ works as culturally important and deserving of respect, not as exploitable cash cows to be used to make money for lazy, pandering producers who only care about dollar signs. And while this is far from the worst result of that trend, that doesn’t excuse it from following it in the first place.