The trick with children’s live theatre, or movies for that matter, is this: will the child watch? My four year old Great-Nephew, James Podniesinski, sat with mouth agape, mesmerized for 90 minutes. He thoroughly enjoyed it and his mommy, rock nyc writer Louba Lababedi, told me he was still talking about it hours later. And I can see why: despite its somewhat summer stock production values, it retells the story of the one of the kind Grinch, with a heart three sizes too small, who, annoyed at the Xmas addicted Whos from Whoville, with the unwilling aid of his puppy Max, hatches a plot to steal Christmas, with energy and honesty.
Part of the landscape of Christmas now, it began as a Seuss story written in rhyme in 1957, migrated to network TV in 1966 with the perfect mix of Chuck Jones, Warners master of animation, and Frankenstein himself, Boris Karloff, as both the Grinch and the Narrator. After that, there was a terrible live action attempt starring Jim Carrey (they got “The Cat In The Hat” with Mike Myers, wrong as well) and just this year a very poor attempt at a full length animation movie.
The theatrical version, a 90 minute performance that began life in 2006 on Broadway (earlier, it was being work shopped in the early 1990s, and the first performance was in 1994) with book and lyrics by American playwright Timothy Mason and original score by Mel Marvin. It isn’t great even by James’ mouth agape standards. Firstly, it is a memory play with Matt as an old dog remembering his puppy days with the Grinch when it happened. WHo in their right minds would make a memory play for children? They don’t even start having episodic memory till they are 30 months old, and, if, like James, they are four years old the entire concept of deep memory is alien because IT DOES NOT EXIST. This is a huge constructional disaster area, it is simply not the way to tell the Seuss story.
Next, at one point the Grinch shouts “what do I hate” and the children shout back “Christmas!” at the top of their lungs, the children were thoroughly enjoying themselves, completely bought into the show from the very beginning, and should have had much more audience participation. Towards the end the citizens of Whoville run through section 100, they should have been everywhere. If you have ever seen a British pantomime, where the audience and the actors almost vibrate together if done right, that’s what was needed.
The songs are lame as well, but that doesn’t matter as much, if the music to “The Book Of Mormons” is terrible, what can we expect from this? Plus the “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” is good. So is Gavin Lee as the Grinch, he was the best thing about SpongeBobSquarePants -The Musical as SquidWard as well, Gavin gives a tour de force performance while never dropping his Grinchiness for a moment. Adults (quite a few showed up without kids!) should like it to a limited degree, but it reaches its target audience with ease.
The Hulu Theatre was half empty, MSG do a lot of charitable work, with so many unfilled seats, perhaps they should give them away through churches, and social workers, to children who can’t afford to see it alone. It closes December 30th, so there is still time…
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