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From the archives: Grinching of the Globe began in 1998

In November 1998, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” opened at the Old Globe Theater in Balboa Park. The musical based on Dr. Seuss was the theater’s first-ever holiday offering and has become an annual tradition.

From the San Diego Union-Tribune, Tuesday, November 24, 1998:

‘Grinch’ steals the hearts of young and old

By Anne Marie Welsh, theater critic

The thousands of San Diego kids holding tickets to “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” will revel in the show which kicked off Sunday night at the Old Globe Theatre. And so, happy to announce, their parents will be.

And maybe even Grinches in the closet.

And bosses that are slot clips.

Oops sorry. The great rhyme teller, Dr. Seuss, who died here in his adopted hometown in 1991, has a way of tuning the ear and turning the tongue in conversational verse. Timothy Mason adapted Seuss’ wildly popular story, creating a smooth imitation of the sly twists and silly turns of the book’s rhymes to helpful, if undistinguished, tunes by Mel Marvin.

Director Jack O’Brien adapted this first-ever Old Globe holiday show for the intimate dimensions of the theater and the season’s heartfelt humanity. And he did it with the wit and theatrics that marked his earliest forays into musical theater, like “Damn Yankees.” Although “Grinch” cost $1.1 million, the production is neither ostentatious nor glitzy; it’s imaginative in the best way that appeals to children.

John Lee Beatty’s set is a treat, filled with fantastical inventions such as tiny singing puppets, a large flying sleigh, and snow where you least expect it. The design is true to Seuss’ designs and takes viewers from “wow” to “Oh, wow” as the Grinch (Guy Paul) sneaks out of his mountain cave and ominously moves towards the bulbous village of Who -town.

In a final and utterly fitting stage transformation, even the singing encore seems to have jumped onto the stage from a bright red page of history.

Robert Morgan’s costumes transform more than two dozen singing actors – many of whom are seasoned from working in small San Diego theaters – into whimsical Whos in red, white and a passel of pinks. The green-gray Grinch with a green-striped tongue crosses a Wookiee with the pot-bellied Seuss creation. His dog Max comes in the form of a dashing youngster (Rusty Ross) and an arthritic older one (Don Lee Sparks). Max is sadly inspired by the few pages in which he is reluctantly forced to serve as a one-horned reindeer.

Mason first adapted the Dr. Seuss story for the Children’s Theater Company of Minneapolis in 1994. Seuss’ book is short and its plot simple.

A 53-year-old Grinch with a heart two sizes too small hates Christmas and thinks if he steals the Whos’ gifts and trees from the valley below him, he’ll cancel the holiday itself. Dressed in a tacky Santy costume, he gets to work, but is interrupted by a little Who, Cindy-Lou. She asks for a glass of water and wonders what he is doing. The Grinch tells a lie, rides the “chimbley” and finds to his surprise that the Whos celebrate anyway, without any gifts. His heart suddenly expands and he sculpts “the beast” at the party.

Mason extended the story by framing it with narration from the old Max and expanding (and also, sadly, sentimentalizing) the Grinch and Cindy-Lou’s relationship.

In a tweed overcoat from which a graying tail protrudes, Sparks’ former Max is the glue that holds this stage version together. Careful about rhythm, rhyme and emotion, he again shows the comedic intelligence that has made him a major asset to the Globe over the years.

Paul’s Grinch shares this comically exact timing: he’s terrific physically, gesturally, facially as he crawls across the proscenium, weaves, tiptoes, growls and threatens. He knows how far to go to scare children and amuse adults. But on opening night, he also sang flat. Its three big numbers had a strange bitterness – the thunderous “I Hate Christmas Eve”, the vaudevillian shtick of “One of a Kind” with its echo of Jerry Lewis in O’Brien’s “Damn Yankees”, and the ballad “Santa for A Day” with the wonderful Tiffany Scarritt as Cindy-Lou.

In her pink cotton candy wig and turnip-shaped dress, Leigh Scarritt fashioned a very funny grandma, while local favorites Steve Gunderson and Melinda Gilb brought their usual pinpoint timing to the parental Whos.

The Grinch’s Nightmare turned out to be a very amusing and entirely Seussian vision of loud, sugar-filled children going wild, although Marvin’s “Last Minute Shopping”, also cleverly staged by O’Brien and the choreographer John DeLuca, felt this world too much, and therefore out of step with history.

Quibbles aside, “Grinch” seems to be becoming an annual tradition. The sight of so many excited children inside and outside on the twinkling plaza signals a smart new direction for the city’s venerable theater.

California Daily Newspapers

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