The first time we see the Grinch in the Children's Theatre Company's holiday production, "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas," it is just a glimpse of a part of him. We are introduced to his hand, a long, hairy thing emerging from the mouth of a cave that's vaguely reminiscent of the open maw of a devouring great white shark.
The hand, which roughly pats the head of a young dog named Max, could have been a creature in its own right, until the shaggy remainder of the Grinch emerges. Scowling, and green, with squiggly black lines rutted into his face, the Grinch resembles a crone with a very upset stomach.
That monster-movie intro, infused with comic looks, is just one of many marvelous elements in Peter Brosius' exciting staging of this musical by composer Mel Marvin and lyricist Timothy Mason that opened Friday in Minneapolis. From the music, conducted by Denise Prosek and delivered with sweet cheer by the village-size cast, to the evocative design and well-considered and -executed scenes, the show is engaging and exciting. It has wide appeal to children and adults alike.
"Grinch" is one of two Seuss productions now up at the Children's Theatre. Earlier this fall, the company opened a winning staging of "The Cat in the Hat" in its Cargill Stage.
But the mainstage is where the magic is at the moment. Reed Sigmund plays the Grinch, an outcast who lives north of Whoville, a place of contented, simple people. Their disposition riles the Grinch, who, accompanied by his brow-beaten dog, decides to stop Christmas by taking the things that people associate with the gift-giving season.
On one of his drops down a chimney, he is discovered by Cindy Lou (Natalie Tran), whose kindness and trust helps to transform him so that his shrunken heart grows back to human size.
As the up-jumping, low-singing meanie, Sigmund gives the Grinch a vivid, palpable embodiment (we see just how palpable when he runs into the audience).
He takes us through the Grinch's emotional journey, from distempered scowl to warm, caring figure. Sigmund imbues the Grinch with some mania, though he is not as maniacal as Jim Carrey in the 2000 movie version. Still, his sudden eruptions of meanness, especially to poor dog, Max (the younger version is played with earnest goodness by Brandon Brooks), are sufficiently scary. And Sigmund's phrasing on the musical numbers conveys all of character's emotions, so we feel viscerally what we know in our heads about him.
Tran is terrific as Cindy Lou, with a gorgeous, heartwarming delivery. She has great potential, and even if she struggled with pitch a little, that will be mastered as she grows.
H. Adam Harris, who plays the narrator, Old Max, is a munificent presence. He invests the story with warmth, forgiveness and Morgan Freeman-esque vocal majesty. All together, the cast, the designers and director Brosius have conspired artfully to make this "Grinch" a stealer of hearts.
Rohan Preston • 612-673-4390 • Follow on Twitter: @RohanPreston