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REVIEW | Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical — Segerstrom Center for the Arts

Updated: Dec 22, 2023

He’s a mean one, Mr. Grinch — but oh, what a charmer!

On a Christmas Eve heist of his neighbors, the Whos, all he wants to do is even the score. There’s no harm in cheering as he cleans out their house: We know he’ll reform; the stuff he'll restore.


But really, we’d take his side, no matter what. The charismatic showman inside the shaggy green suit is stage veteran Joshua Woodie (“The Last Five Years”), and his strutting, preening performance is by far the best thing about “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical,” directed by Matt August at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, and playing through Christmas Eve. Along with John Lee Beatty’s picture book set and the Whos’ gravity-defying hair (costumes are by Robert Morgan), it’s a show that feels genuinely Seussian.


Only sixty-nine pages long, and illustrated by Seuss in red, black and white, the book became an instant classic. Nine years later the author called on his old friend, the brilliant animator Chuck Jones (Bugs Bunny), to help him bring the Grinch to television. For the first time the Grinch on Mount Crumpit became a green meanie. Now, for the first time, songs rose up from Whoville down below (“Welcome, Christmas,” “Tomorrow It’s Christmas, It’s Practically Here,” and “Trim Up The Tree”) written by Theodor Geisel and composer Albert Hague.


The Company of Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical, Now Playing at Segerstrom Center for the Arts

The animated “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” was aired on CBS in 1966, and instantly became an annual holiday cultural touchstone and a savory, spine-tingling prelude to Christmas itself for millions of kids. Flash forward to the year 2000, and we see it as a mega-hit movie narrated by Anthony Hopkins, directed by Ron Howard and starring Jim Carrey as the misanthropic green hermit creature who despises Christmas and attempts to sabotage everyone’s holiday plans in Whoville, a community of bell-shaped, pointy-nosed humanoids with duck tails, attired in bright, candy cane colors. Soon it became the second-highest-grossing holiday film of all time (behind 1990’s “Home Alone”), and still a Christmas staple.


So it was inevitable that the story of the Grinch and his big-hearted Who neighbors should take the stage as a fully-formed musical. The first draft came from Minneapolis in 1994 at the Children’s Theatre Company. The musical was revised and re-designed at The Old Globe in San Diego in 1998, conceived and directed by Jack O’Brien.

Then, in 2006 the production of “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! – The Musical” took another developmental step and stole Broadway, breaking box office records and entertaining thousands, young and not-so-young. The show returned to Broadway the following year and has been touring the nation ever since at holiday time.


The Company of Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical, Now Playing at Segerstrom Center for the Arts

It was initially “created and supervised” by Jack O’Brien, the versatile director whose projects include a Puccini opera at the Met and Lincoln Center Theater’s holiday extravaganza for highbrows, Tom Stoppard’s “Coast of Utopia” trilogy. Matt August directed this version, which features a stocking full of serviceable new show tunes with lyrics by Timothy Mason, who also wrote the Seussian rhymed book, and music by Mel Marvin.


In the case of little Cindy-Lou Who (Aerina DeBoer and Melodie Rose Romano alternate in the role), the child who catches the Grinch stealing her family’s belongings, the writing is also sickly sweet. Beyond not being scared of the intruder — a reaction that Mr. Woodie, impressively, makes credible — Cindy-Lou develops an instant attachment to him. And when the tenderhearted Cindy-Lou prepars to sing her big solo number while tinkling strains of a sentimental nature stirs from the opening music, Mr. Woodie turns to the audience and growls most grinchily, “Oh, it’s a ballad!”


And what a ballad! “Santa for a Day” makes that syrupy anthem from “Annie” that I hardly need to name seem like a paean to pessimism in comparison.


The Company of Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical, Now Playing at Segerstrom Center for the Arts

The entire ensemble was spectacular and animated with much energy, creating full, rich layers and personalities of the townspeople. But it’s Mr. Woodie’s delicious, fur-fingered performance that brings the house down, definitely giving the audience its money’s worth, especially with a hilarious delivery of his early solo, “What Cha Ma Who.” W. Scott Stewart and Brian Cedric Jones are also very good as the old and young versions of Max, the Grinch’s dog. Their duet, “This Time of Year,” is just right for, well, this time of year.


The majority of the numbers is given reprises, some more than one, including the opening number, “Who Likes Christmas?” And you can rest easy, Grinch-o-philes: that immortal tune from the television special is given prominent placement as well, with the mordant “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” and even used in a brief sing-along segment. The chorus is led by W. Scott Stewart, a Nashville musician, who narrates the show with crusty friendliness as Old Max, the Grinch’s unwilling canine accomplice, while looking back on the misadventures of his youth. Brian Cedric Jones plays the Young Max of indentured servitude and the sad lone reindeer horn.


The sets by John Lee Beatty carefully mimic Dr. Seuss’s signature style, with the huts of the Whos looking like cupcakes with melted frosting. Such fidelity is appreciated, including costume designer, Robert Morgan’s bold accentuation of the nonhuman nature of the Who species. And all of that seemed to please the legions of critics in the audience who really matter here, the 10-and-unders, who hardly stirred in their seats during that almost 90 minutes.


One exception was a very vocal, very wiggly little girl behind me who let out a long, soulful wail shortly after the Grinch, played with gargoyle-ish glee by Joshua Woodie, slunk onstage, covered in skanky green fur that almost resembled feathers, with Kabuki makeup turning his features vaguely feline. Mr. Woodie soon won me over with his slyly epicene performance, and especially in his razzle-dazzle ode to his own specialness, “One of a Kind,” hilariously performed in front of a curtain of green tinsel, which was the show’s musical highlight.



Based on the book “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” by Dr. Seuss; book and lyrics by Timothy Mason; music by Mel Marvin; Additional music and lyrics by Albert Hague and Dr. Seuss; Directed by Matt August; Original Choreography by John DeLuca; Restaged by Bob Richard; Created and Supervised by Jack O’Brien. Sets by John Lee Beatty; Original Lighting by Pat Collins; Lighting Designer Craig Stelzenmuller; Costumes by Robert Morgan; Original Sound by Acme Sound Partners; Sound Designer Joshua D. Reid; Technical Director Dave Burch; Incidental Musical & Vocal Arrangements by Joshua Rosenblum; Orchestrations by Michael Starobin; Dance Music Arrangements by David Krane; Music Supervisor Peter Leigh-Nilsen; Production Stage Manager Pamela M. Campi. Produced by Crossroads Live and Running Subway, presented at Segerstrom Center for the Arts, through December 24th. Running time: 85 minutes with no intermission.


WITH: Joshua Woodie (the Grinch); Brian Cedric Jones (Young Max); W. Scott Stewart (Old Max); Aerina DeBoer & Melodie Rose Romano, alternating (Cindy Lou Who); Aaron Goldenberg (Papa Who); Ashley Morton  (Mama Who); Brian Rooney (Grandpa Who); Barbara Bayes (Grandma Who); Charlotte Sydney Harrington & Azalea Wolfe, alternating (Annie Who); Natalie Buster, Dereck Atwater, Nick Abbott, Kobe Brown, Taryn Smithson, Rachel Gubow (Citizens of Whoville); Nicole Goglia, Olivia A. Cruz, Taryn Smithson, Lauren Bobrow, Lindsay Hoffpauir, Chavon Hampton & Lauren Abel (Who Kids).


SWINGS: Katie McConaughy, Trickster Rogers.

UNDERSTUDIES: (Grinch) Nick Abbott, Dereck Atwater; (Old Max) Nick Abbott, Brian Rooney; (Young Max) Trickster Rogers; (Mama Who) Rachel Gubow; (Papa Who) Kobe Brown; (Grandma Who) Natalie Buster; (Grandpa Who) Dereck Atwater.

Chris Daniels

Arts & Entertainment Reviewer

The Show Report


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