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Theater Review

This Grinch Not Only Steals Christmas, but With It, the Show

Guy Paul reprises his role as the green one, anchoring the third edition of Dr. Seuss' classic at the Old Globe.

November 21, 2000|DON BRAUNAGEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SAN DIEGO — Is this a thankless task or what? Would any reviewer want to risk a coal-filled stocking by criticizing a beloved holiday tradition?

Fortunately, the Old Globe Theatre's third annual production of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" (and in these fast-paced days, "third" constitutes tradition) continues to be as good as ever--in production values and just plain family fun.

This year, there's a formidable competitor on screen, with Jim Carrey essaying the title role in Ron Howard's version of the Dr. Seuss children's classic. But live performance almost always trumps film, and Guy Paul is no pallid green Grinch himself. For Paul, this has become an annual role, and he's clearly enjoying it, whether interacting with the audience, sliding down the side of the proscenium or delivering ad-libs.

In multihued green-fur costume and makeup, and making good use of a serpentine tongue rivaling that of KISS rocker Gene Simmons, Paul mugs, sings and dances broadly and captivatingly. He's such a favorite that his first appearance as villain draws applause rather than boos.

The story, however--like the 1957 book--doesn't just appeal to children. Adults can savor the redemption of a meanie who, jealous of the Christmas happiness in nearby Whoville, steals everything in the village, then hears the Whos celebrating anyway and realizes that genuine holiday joy doesn't depend on material objects.

And in the Globe edition--book and lyrics by Timothy Mason, music by Mel Marvin, choreography by John DeLuca and direction by Jack O'Brien--there are touches of nostalgia and psychology. The tale is told by Old Max the dog, recalling his younger days as a reluctant assistant to the Grinch. And the Grinch's song, "One of a Kind," explains his feeling of isolation, then is reprised after his conversion to illustrate his newfound pride in his uniqueness.

Forget any deep analysis, however. The Seuss stories continue to charm because their points are made simply, and the Globe stays true to that essence. Even the John Lee Beatty sets copy the style and loopy drawings of the book, in the same colors of red, white and black. Likewise Robert Morgan's costumes, in whites and various shades of red, which give the cast the pear-shaped look favored by Seuss.

In addition to Paul, the cast features reliable returnees: Julian Gamble as Old Max, Rusty Ross as Young Max, Steve Gunderson as J.P. Who, Melinda Gilb as Mama Who and Robert MacAulay as Grandpa Seth Who. A charming newcomer is Mary Frances McClay as Cindy-Lou Who, instrumental in transforming the Grinch. McClay alternates the role with Jennica Vargas. The chorus of Little Whos is again rotated among three sets of children.

Pat Collins' lighting serves well, particularly in helping the illusion of the Grinch's sleigh flying through the air, and Jeff Ladman's sound assures that no words are lost, even from little voices.

* "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!," Old Globe Theatre, Balboa Park, San Diego. Tuesdays-Fridays, 7:30 p.m. (Wednesday and Thursday matinees at 11 a.m.); Saturdays and Sundays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. (Times vary around Christmas and New Year's Day. Check with box office.) Ends Dec. 31. $37-$42 ($18.50-$21 for ages 17 and under). (619) 239-2255. Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.

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