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SCHENECTADY — Green seems to be a hit with families and children. Just look at Shrek, the Hulk, and Mike Wazowski from Pixar’s “Monsters, Inc.” But on opening night on Wednesday, Dec. 5, locals flocked to Proctors to meet the Grinch himself, in what seemed to be a storybook that’s come to life.
“Dr Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical” had performances from Dec. 5 through Sunday, Dec. 9, each a 90-minute show without an intermission. With lyrics and book by Timothy Mason, and music by Mel Marvin, this Broadway holiday musical is an adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ 1957 similarly-named book.
It chronicles the adventures of the Grinch (played by Philip Huffman), a green-haired creature with a cynic outlook on life and deep hatred for Christmas, whose heart is infamously “two sizes too small.” He lives with his dog, Max, in a solitary mountain that looms north of the holiday-obsessed town of Whoville. This town is populated with the Whos, a dizzying animated mass of mostly pear-shaped characters who constantly sing, dance, smile, and muse about Christmas, qualities that only make the Grinch wish he’d lived in a much higher mountain.
The cast who portrayed the Whosville citizens unashamedly embraced their characters’ overall sense of pure unadulterated joy, with some even jump roping, doing cartwheels, and even crowding around the stage’s centerpiece Christmas tree like frantic bees in a beehive.
Upon first impression, the production value was brilliant. With such a rich luminous color palette, it was a delightful feast for the children’s eyes, as well as parents who had just braved through the harsh winter weather outside to attend this show. The moving sets all felt kinetic and harmoniously synced with the Whos’ sheer sense of optimism; each dance move or punch line punctuated with a staccato beaming of lights for comical effect.
Holding the production together was leading actor Philip Huffman who portrayed the Grinch as a mischievous almost-feline-like creature with a penchant for breaking the fourth wall. Upon debuting onstage, he built a strong connection with the audience, mainly the children, to keep them engaged by pointing at certain people and asking, “What are you looking at?” His quasi-slapstick comedy was also a triumphant highlight of the night as he offered numerous sight gags like trying to evade the Whos and getting angry with his excitable dog.
Huffman even parodied a Las Vegas residency show with his “One of a Kind” musical number—perhaps the best showcase of the Grinch that night—where he luxuriated in being unique. Coming across as melodramatic, that did pay off though as it added to making the Grinch a more entertaining character. Huffman’s vocals were commendable, making one wonder why the Grinch did not want to share that talent with the Whosville citizens, and his dialogue offered sarcastic one-liners too.
W. Scott Stewart and Jared Starkey respectively portrayed the older and younger version of Max, the Grinch’s dog. Old Max narrates the production while reflecting on his times of being mistreated by his owner, offering an interesting perspective and conjuring up the question of whether Max was undergoing Stockholm Syndrome. Young Max displayed true agility to capture the feel of a dog, and even managed to catch each of the stolen presents that the Grinch mindlessly tossed up in the air in his sack, a circus-like act that surprised the audience.
The young Fiona Quinn exuded Cindy-Lou Who’s innocence and huggable disposition. Playing the young and curious girl who inadvertently stumbled upon the Grinch stealing her family’s Christmas decorations and food, Quinn is the one responsible for starting the domino effect that will later result in the Grinch having a more positive outlook on Christmas. She embraced the Grinch, thinking he’s “Santy Clause,” and when she starts to sing, “Santa for a Day,” the audience could not help but laugh when he gasped, “Oh no, it’s a ballad.”
Her vocals were an emotional counterpunch to the Grinch’s initial dismissal of her and to anyone who initially perceived her as just an extra. Despite her short stature, it’s her message of love and sense of belonging that encapsulated the moral of the production.
Perhaps the show’s one downfall is how the Grinch’s literal change of heart did not feel too deep or meaningful, since the character was busy offering so much comedy up to that point. Even right after his heart grew three sizes, he muttered to himself, “Wow,” in surprise at the new sensation, to which the audience chuckled and applauded. But then again, this musical should not be taken too seriously.
Laughter endured through to the end as the Grinch jokingly had trouble saying “Merry Christmas” by saying “Merry Cracker,” “Cranberry” and “Poppins” instead. But he comically did a double take when the audience yelled the correct word to him, harking back to the point of how his character had earlier established a firm connection with the crowd.
You’re a witty one, Mr. Grinch.