Saturday, November 19, 2022

"How the Grinch Stole Christmas" at Children's Theatre Company

I came home from a weekend down South in Nashville where it was a balmy 45 degrees to find that winter had arrived in Minnesota. And I'm not just talking about the snow and freezing temperatures. I'm talking about holiday #TCTheater that seems to start earlier and include more shows every year. But I'm here for it; it's a big season for local theater and I love all of the holiday offerings, from sweet to salty. My first of four holiday* shows this weekend, and probably about a dozen this season, is the recurring fave How the Grinch Stole Christmas at Children's Theatre Company. This is the 10th production at CTC since this beloved Dr. Suess adaptation premiered in 1994, the 5th time with the incomparable Reed Sigmund as the furry green grouch we all love to hate, and then just plain love. This show is full of such joy, humor, and nostalgia, that it's impossible not to feel your heart grow a size or two. The gorgeous design and super talented cast of all ages bring this beloved familiar story to life before our eyes. The Grinch continues through the first week of January, but it's a popular show so make sure to get your tickets early, and look for cheaper tickets with better availability on weekdays. And remember, plan to arrive 30 minutes prior to showtime because traffic and parking can be difficult in the area (pro tip: continue on 3rd Avenue south of 26th Street and look for street parking there).

This is my fourth visit to Whoville; I first saw it 2014, when I wrote, "it's a bright and colorful, silly and funny, sweet and heart-warming tale of redemption and love." I'm happy to report this is still true, no matter how many times you've seen it. In a less than two-hour visit to Whoville, the show will make you laugh, warm your heart, and hopefully remind you of the real reason we celebrate any holiday - family, friends, and being together.**

old Max (Dean Holt) the storyteller
(photo by Glen Stubbe)
In this musical adaptation, the Grinch's story is told by his dog Max, who is now an old dog ready to move on from the cave in the mountain above Whoville. But first, he shares with the audience the remarkable transformation he witnessed. No mention is made of what has happened since that pivotal Christmas long ago, or where the Grinch is now, but it's a clever device that allows much of the original descriptive rhyming language to be used. Old Max remembers how disagreeable Grinch was when he was an eager young pup, and how he forced him to help steal Christmas from the Whos. The plan failed when the Whos woke up on Christmas day to find all their presents, decorations, and food gone, but still sang and made merry, filled with the joy of togetherness and the spirit of the holiday. The Grinch realized that perhaps Christmas is more than presents and roast beast, his heart grew three sizes, and the rest is history.

Max and the Grinch (Audrey Mojica and Reed Sigmund)
(photo by Glen Stubbe)
At five productions and hundreds of performances, the Grinch is sort of Reed Sigmund's signature role. He puts on role as easily as the costume, to the point where he's totally natural. After so much time with the role, he's has figured out how to milk every word, every moment, every movement of everyone's favorite meanie. It's such a treat to hear him spit out Dr. Seuss' words, or whisper them, or scream them in an audience member's ear. Because watch out, the Grinch walks through the audience at his most mean (maybe not quite as close in these pandemic times). But I'm pretty sure being yelled at by the Grinch has got to be the best Christmas present of all. Reed Sigmund as the Grinch is an example of an actor who knows his role inside and out and gives it everything he's got, to the most entertaining effect.

The rest of the cast is pretty great too. Audrey Mojica has graduated from the role of Cindy-Lou in 2018 to young Max, and she's a delight - so eager and spirited and puppy-like in movement. She more than holds her own with Reed, and the two of them are a wonderful odd-couple comedy duo. The present-stealing scene is a highlight with plenty of physical comedy adeptly achieved.

the cast of The Grinch (photo by Glen Stubbe)
CTC company member Dean Holt returns as the older, wiser, slower dog, who narrates the story with nostalgia. The two dogs often mirror each other's movements, showing the connection between them. The entire ensemble of children and grown-ups alike are so joyful and fun to watch as these oddly shaped and colorful creatures, and director Peter C. Brosius and choreographer Linda Talcott Lee keep everything moving smoothly in organized chaos. The cast includes many familiar faces, but it's sometimes hard to recognize them under all that costume and make-up, so complete is the physical and spiritual transformation into the happy Who people. A young Elsa Dungan-Hawks takes on the role of the purest soul in Whoville, Cindy-Lou, with a voice as clear as a bell, melting Mr. Grinch's heart (along with everyone in the audience).

the cast of The Grinch (photo by Glen Stubbe)
The original songs are fun and well performed by the cast and live pit orchestra, directed by Victor
Zupanc. The CTC stage looks like something right out of a Dr. Suess book, with cartoonish and playful set pieces (by Tom Butsch). We see the Who family home or the Whoville shopping district on stage, with the Grinch's snowy lair off to the side. There are some thrilling moments of flying sleighs, and some fun animation (projection design by Craig Gottshalk). The Whos are dressed in bright and colorful costumes that are somehow cute despite being the most unflattering shape - a bit wide at the hips and high in the forehead, each a little different to express individual Whovian personalities (by David Kay Mickelsen).

It's so easy to get bogged down in the busyness of this season and turn into a Grinch. This show allows us to forget all that, revel in the silliness, and remember what the Grinch discovers - that the true meaning of any holiday is the people we spend it with, and a spirit of generosity and kindness to all, even the Grinches in our life (or ourselves). 

How the Grinch Stole Christmas continues through January 8 at Children's Theatre Company in South Minneapolis.

the Grinch with me and my fellow Twin Cities Theater Blogger
Tracy from What Stirs Your Soul at a 2018 backstage tour