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Theatre Review (LA): How The Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss and Jack O’Brien at the Pantages Theatre

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Back in 1957, Ted Geisel, otherwise known as Dr. Seuss, wrote a short rhymed story about a mean hairy and green creature called the Grinch, who first tries to stop Christmas from happening, and then has a change of heart and learns that the season exists in our hearts and not in the stores. This modest book, How The Grinch Stole Christmas, was then turned into an animated cartoon narrated by Boris Karloff (my favorite version), and then into a movie starring Jim Carrey. Eleven years ago Jack O’Brien conceived a musical based on the story. The musical is still an annual event in San Diego but has gone on to play in New York City, Baltimore, and Boston. This Christmas the “mean ole Grinch” found his way to the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles. It is delighting audiences now in Tinseltown.

This version is based on O’Brien’s original and restaged by Matt August, with choreography by Bob Richards and original choreography by John DeLucca. The colors are bright and garish and the “Whos,” the inhabitants of “Whoville,” are just this side of disgustingly chipper. This is, of course, what sets off The Grinch, here magically played with great enthusiasm, humor, and grace by Stefan Karl. Best known as the villain “Robbie Rotten” in the Nickelodeon TV series Lazy Town, Karl is just great in the role of the Grinch, mastering every gesture and flick of his long hairy fingers.

Stefan gets great support from John Larroquette (of Night Court fame) as the narrator/dog “Old Max.” I liked his characterization very much and felt it was better than I had seen in San Diego. “Young Max” is played by an exuberant James Royce Edwards. Melinda Gilb is “Mama Who” and Danny Gurwin is “Papa Who.” Rosemary Loar and Stuart Zagnit were the “Grandma and Grandpa Whos” respectively. The cast is filled out with many local kids who had auditioned for the roles. Outstanding among them was Kayla Stallings as “Cindy-Lou Who.” She is sweet and, most important, understandable, and she touched the audience with her big-hearted embrace of the Grinch.

“The Grinch” has entered the world of pop culture and it is not uncommon to hear someone say, “Oh don’t be such a Grinch,” meaning a tight-assed meanie. How The Grinch Stole Christmas is playing as part of the BroadwayLa season at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood until Jan. 3.

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