A musical based on Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” seems like a good idea. A charming holiday crowd-pleaser. So why was the audience at the Pantages Theater, filled with kids and their parents, so amazingly quiet? No giggles. No energy. No enthusiastic feedback to encourage the ensemble onstage. And, remarkable for the usually over-indulgent L.A. theatergoers, no standing ovation at the end of the show.
It isn’t for lack of trying. The nearly three dozen performers, dressed in Robert Morgan’s imaginatively festive pink and red costumes, set the tone for the cheerful citizens of Whoville. Unfortunately, Dr. Seuss, who only had to draw them, but not make them move around a stage, had created them with huge bulging middles. Which made an awkward mess for choreographers John DeLuca and Bob Richard, who could only program them to sway from side to side or jump up and down.
The set, designed by John Lee Beatty, cleverly deploys Dr. Seuss’ stark black and white line drawings writ large, and they are fun to see. Moreover, Stefan Karl hams it up nicely as the scary green-faced, waggly-fingered Grinch, and James Royce Edwards is frisky as the young dog Max.
John Larroquette, who plays Max as an old dog and is the narrator of the story, does a few graceful hops and skips, but his overall performance is so low-key as to appear nearly lifeless.
Dr. Seuss’s simple rhymes are kept intact by Timothy Mason, who is credited with writing the book and lyrics, but Mel Marvin’s music is mostly regrettable and forgettable. Except for Dr. Seuss’ original song, “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” the score is nothing to sing home about.
Cindy-Lou Who, played alternately by Kayley Stallings and Isadora Tulalian, is the moppet who brings the Christmas spirit to the Scrooge-like Grinch. Little girls are always cute and sweet, but most often their high-pitched, piping voices are discernible only to dogs. And so, in this case, much of the dialogue and singing is only sporadically understandable.
Director Matt August is to be commended for keeping the whole production moving, including curtains, scrims, and special effects, and Pat Collins and D.M. Wood make a little magic with their lighting. But in the long run, there is a flatness about this production, a lack of excitement, that leaves you uninvolved as the Grinch steals Christmas, and, in the end, un-elated when he gives it back.
“Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas” will continue at the Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., in Los Angeles Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. through Dec. 27. Call (800) 982-2787 for tickets.
Cynthia Citron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.