Sure, the Grinch has green skin, but isn’t that just a mark of difference shared by the Incredible Hulk and “Wicked” heroine Elphaba? The fact that he’s Bigfoot-shaggy doesn’t automatically make him a monster, either (although his meanness to his dog Max does).
What really gives away the Grinch’s frightful soul are his eyes. They’re tomato-red with an eerie glow in Peter Brosius’ dark but cheery revival of “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” which opened Friday at Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis.
This expanded version of the musical adds new songs by composer Mel Marvin and writer/lyricist Timothy Mason(with somewhat predictable rhymes). Also expanded is the role of Old Max (avuncular Dean Holt), who narrates the show.
“Grinch,” which originated at CTC in 1994 and set a box-office record in last year’s staging, has been refreshed in many ways. Formerly a one-act show, it has an intermission just 40 minutes in (unusually, the second act is longer than the first).
But the essence remains in Brosius’ production, which takes place on a suggestive set by Tom Butsch. This is a story about a cold, crabby figure who lives on high and curses the people he sees only from afar. But when he gets to know little Cindy-Lou Who (sweetly affecting Audrey Mojica), her innocence and warmth help his shrunken heart grow to normal size.
The choreography, by Linda Talcott Lee, is expressive and fun as the Whos kick up their heels in David Kay Mickelsen’s barrel-shaped costumes. The comic or faux-tragic movements of the cast sometimes seem like extensions of the emotive music flowing from the baton of longtime CTC conductor Victor Zupanc.
Playing the Grinch for the fourth time at CTC, Reed Sigmund owns the role. He gives us the extremes of this misanthrope, making Young Max whimper (Natalie Tran, who tugs our heartstrings) and causing the townspeople to tremble in one of the show’s funnier bits.
Sigmund is such a gifted physical actor that he can sometimes be overantic. He seems a bit more restrained here, leavening his forcefulness with nuance that helps him earn his redemption in our eyes.
In one new bit of business, the Grinch hoists Cindy-Lou on his shoulders — a move that’s reminiscent of a signature moment in “A Christmas Carol,” which opens this week at the Guthrie.
We look to stories such as “Grinch,” “A Christmas Carol” and Molière’s “The Miser” not only for entertainment, but for understanding and reassurance. People are fundamentally good, these dramas seem to say. They just need a Cindy-Lou Who or a Tiny Tim to bring out the grace we all possess.
In a world where real monsters dwell, that is a fervent hope.
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