Unless your heart is two sizes too small, it’s hard to hate the Grinch. It’s one of my favorite Christmas TV shows, and now it is a favorite for my kids. I couldn’t wait to bring them to see How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical at the Wang Theatre in Boston. Not only is it a great story, but another wonderful opportunity for the kids to enjoy a real theater experience.
The musical is narrated by an aging Max (the Grinch’s faithful dog). I should note here that Old Max is played by Ken Land, a white actor, while Young Max is played (quite masterfully) by Gilbert L. Bailey II, a black one. When Old Max explained that he has grayed a bit in his old age, I had a chuckle. Parents should be prepared for eagle-eyed kids to ask questions about his shifting race. Bug noticed, but was far more concerned by the fact that neither of their costumes were brown, as Max was in the movie. So… Max introduces us to himself as a young pup, and then we meet The Grinch, played brilliantly by Jeff McCarthy. The Grinch, in his shaggy green costume, is reminiscent of Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion from the 1939 version of The Wizard of Oz. With a layer of Grinchiness, of course. Finally, we meet the Whos, decked out in fanciful pink and red concoctions designed by Robert Morgan. Cindy-Lou Who is the one who really stands out in her clan. Played alternatively by Tori Feinstein and Abigail Shapiro, she is a tiny, wobbly, presence on stage. She’s so much smaller than the other Whos that even if she didn’t play a pivotal role, your eyes would be drawn to her character.
Kids familiar with the TV special and/or Dr. Seuss book should easily follow the plot, but the story is longer and more sentimental. Cindy-Lou has more time to bond with the Grinch, and we get to know the Whos a bit more than is probably necessary. The musical shines most when it sticks to the original storyline. The additional elements take away from the simplicity of the story and the clarity of the moral.
I have two warnings to parents bringing young children along. The first is that The Grinch is a bit scary, especially early on. Seeing theater live is not like experiencing a TV show, and after a threatening warning from The Grinch to silence cell phones, and the ominous opening music, Bug (who is 7) was feeling very anxious. He was able to recover, but I saw several toddlers/preschoolers in tears at various times during the show. The other concern is some confusing Santa Claus messaging. When Cindy-Lou wishes for a certain gift, her parents suggest that Santa Claus might bring it. The minute she leaves, they buy it and hide it from her. Later, the family puts the kids to bed and tiptoe around decorating the house and putting out presents. The TV show is much more ambiguous and, once again, this is something that more savvy kids may notice and question. I wished they had left that part out, as well as the moment when Mama Who grabs Papa Who’s butt.
Despite some mom-concerns, my kids adored the show. LadyBug (now 5) couldn’t look away. She was absolutely captivated from beginning to end. She loved Young Max, who employed a lot of gymnastics as he frolicked on the stage, and Cindy-Lou, who she insists must be just 3 or 4 years old. When it suddenly began to “snow” in the theater, she reached out to catch a flake and I wished for the ability to take a picture of the magical moment. A few minutes later, confetti cannons went off and the kids thought it was a bit loud, although they both enjoyed the confetti flying through the air. Those were among the highlights listed by my kids.
I highly recommend How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical for a family theater experience, especially with school-aged kids. It’s a great way to introduce kids to live theater, if you haven’t already, and it’s a relatively forgiving crowd (although I do wish the mom behind me hadn’t given out wrapped candy to her kids half-way through). Note that the show runs about 84 minutes with no intermission. Leave ample time in advance for potty breaks before the show starts and for a visit to the concession stands. Also, prepare to shell out big bucks at the gift shop. Two small Max stuffed animals (and I mean small) put us back $60, a total shock since we couldn’t find a price chart anywhere. I am still trying to justify the purchase (to myself and my husband) as a way to support the arts… The Grinch is playing through December 9, so you still have plenty of time to grab your tickets.
Disclosure: We received tickets for the purpose of conducting a review. There was no promise of a positive review and the opinions contained in this post are my own (or those of my family members).