HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS – The Musical
Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Tuesday 3rd December, 2019
Dr Seuss’s Christmas classic is given the Broadway treatment in this vibrant musical version by Timothy Mason (book and lyrics) with music by Mel Marvin. As the years pass, I feel a growing affinity with the Grinch, a hermit-like, curmudgeonly Scrooge of a creature who begrudges the simple townsfolk their seasonal cheer. He is the Anti-Santa, entering people’s homes and taking stuff away – although even I stop short of burglary.
John Lee Beatty’s set design draws heavily on the Seuss illustrations, with their off-kilter, pen-and-ink style. Robert Morgan’s costumes follow suit, padded to alter the shape of the actors, especially those playing the Whos, the peculiar race of Christmas worshippers. Add to the mix Ben Cracknell’s luscious lighting design, and you have a weird and wonderful world straight out of a storybook. Production values certainly are high – just look at the size of the chorus!
Steve Fortune is Old Max, formerly the Grinch’s dog. He is our narrator, our link to the past. Fortune has a strong and pleasant baritone, which he gets to demonstrate in his rendition of You’re A Mean One, Mr Grinch – a song from an animated TV version of years ago. The song is more well-known in the States than over here, so later, an audience singalong doesn’t really come off.
Playing Young Max is Matt Terry, last seen as a lion in Madagascar. Terry seems to be carving out a career playing animals in musicals, and why not? He is excellent at it, and this show gives him chance to show off his movement skills, even with his padded costume, and his vocal talents.
Holly Dale Spencer shines as Mama Who, with a fine singing voice, and a quirky way of moving. There is a touch of mania in her eyes that is just delicious. Together with Alan Pearson as Papa Who, and Karen Ascoe’s Grandma (in a towering pink wig like a dollop of ice cream) and David Bardsley (a sprightly Grandpa), there is a lovely quartet as the adults prepare the house on Christmas Eve. The score is rich, and very Broadway, with catchy tunes and Sondheimesque phrasing.
Tiny Isla Gie almost steals the show as cute-as-a-button Cindy Lou Who, who interrupts the Grinch’s housebreaking. She holds her own in a hugely impressive performance, like Shirley Temple with an edge. Matt August’s direction allows a satirical touch so that things never get too saccharine or cloying. The show delivers its message that Christmas is not about consumerism and brand names but those with whom you share it.
Now to the Grinch himself. Edward Baker-Duly is just magnificent. He makes the role his own with some cartoony reactions and some masterful showmanship. One of a Kind is an old-fashioned showstopper. This is a villain to be cherished and enjoyed – and I enjoy his throwaway topical references.
This crazy, stylish, funny and tuneful show has heart and is a welcome alternative to all the versions of A Christmas Carol that are out there. It will get you in the feels; it even melted this cold-hearted Grinch of a reviewer.