If 9-year-old Natalie Tran has the hunger to be a star, very little should stand in her way. She certainly has the necessary talent.
Tran, who has been appearing on big Twin Cities stages for three years, revives her role as Cindy-Lou Who in Peter Brosius’ rambunctiously entertaining production of “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” The show opened Friday at Children’s Theatre Company.
Tran’s character, the most trusting little Who in Whoville, is the change agent for the Grinch. She helps him grow a heart that was once two sizes too small into one that’s one size too big. And how does Cindy-Lou Who do it? With her transformative singing.
Tran has a slow build in the show but when she delivers her sweet, pitch-perfect song to the Grinch (played by the ineffably brilliant Reed Sigmund), she swells with a grace and love that warms his heart and lights up the entire auditorium.
It’s enough to make you forget her distracting blond wig (by David Kay Mickelsen, who did the garish, barrel-shaped costumes that help make the show so transporting).
Brosius has marshaled all the wit and joy of past “Grinch” productions for this staging, which takes place in Tom Butsch’s snow globe set and is lit hauntingly by Nancy Schertler. Brosius also has brought back the sure-handed winners of his cast.
H. Adam Harris again plays narrator Old Max, the stray dog that became the Grinch’s much-abused companion. With his Morgan Freeman-esque delivery, Harris invests the role with grace as he looks calmly on the past. Max has the appreciation of one who has had time and space to review the traumatic period of his life when the Grinch — mean, green and every humor in between — sought to steal the joy of all the Whos in Whoville.
There also is a lovely turn by Brandon Brooks as the good-hearted, eager Young Max.
And Sigmund, as the shaggy, haggy Grinch, carries the show in his stupendous carriage. His comic inventiveness reveals shades of the late Robin Williams. Sigmund plays with his voice as if it were a keyboard, going high and low in comic runs. He does a similar thing with his unpredictable, often frenetic physicality.
Those quicksilver turns signal the Grinch’s distemper and loneliness, and work to set up the payoff, when the Grinch glows with the equanimity of someone on a mood relaxer — or who has gotten a lift from the sweet singing of Cindy-Lou Who.
Tran has the cuteness of the child that she is. And she’s still developing her acting skills. But in so many ways, her voice already has a richness and maturity that suggests not just good training, but also heart and soul. She feels the character deeply and it shows in this production that also features funny, shimmying Whos choreographed by Wendy Seyb as well as the spirited musical direction of Denise Prosek.
With Tran, Sigmund and Harris, this “Grinch” kicks off the holiday shows in grand style. It’s not to be missed.