PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! — A Drenched Grinch

By Harry Haun
09 Nov 2006

The musical (book and lyrics by Timothy Mason; music by Mel Marvin) was relatively short and decidedly sweet, very family-friendly and an easy win with the small fry. John Lee Beatty's sets, based on Seuss drawings, kept young eyes busy. Richard Kind's four-and-a-half-year-old Skyler was a particularly contented customer. "She loved this," said Dad. "Are you kidding? Her arms couldn't get wide enough to clap wide enough."

By the time the play had run its course and executive producer James Sanna had finished his thank yous—including a big one to Dr. Seuss' widow, Audrey Geisel, "a loving and dedicated caretaker to all things Seussian"—the pounding rain had miraculously stopped.

First-nighters had a short walk across the street to the opening night party at Madame Tussaud's. A special room had been set aside for all to mix and mingle with the mighty and mute. Tony Bennett, Harrison Ford and Hugh Grant looked especially dashing in the Santa caps. All the likeliness are uncannily dead-on, save for Liz Smith, who deserves (and should demand) an immediate makeover. They missed you by a country mile, hon.

A certain journalistic nightmare began to creep into the house of wax for me. This is the first opening night I've covered in 31 years where I never met the publicist or any one from the publicity staff, so I had no one to point out the actors, who were made up beyond recognition on stage. And I was surrounded by wax facsimiles of stars I did recognize. Eerie, baby. It reminded me of an old Blake Edwards film thriller, "Experiment in Terror."

The arrival of two-time Tony winner John Cullum was so reassuring. He had been "Old Max," the man in the dog suit who narrated the story and left the heavy lifting (and climbing) to a younger man in a dog suit known as "Young Max." And he might suit up again if the show becomes a seasonal perennial. "They haven't asked me. I might be a little long in the tooth to play a dog next year. Hell, I guess I could do it with a walker."

Cullum said he drew on "my knowledge of animals, that sort of thing." And a little "Northern Exposure" didn't hurt, either: "I used to wrestle with a grizzly. What was his name? On the show, there was a big relationship between me and this grizzly. Eight and a half feet tall! It was scary. What was—Jesse! Jesse the Bear! I cried when he died."

His younger dog-self, Rusty Ross, is keen to the teaming. "When John Cullum walked into the first rehearsal the first day and we looked at each other, we were, like, 'We're the same height, we have some of the same facial qualities, this is going to be a great match.' And it has been. We've had a blast. He's just the most gracious, generous actor I've ever worked with—a standup guy. I feel so lucky first of all to have made my Broadway debut and second of all to have made it with this particular project."

The understudy for Old Max is also the understudy for The Grinch, and he got the latter job from prior training, having been the Broadway Grinch in Seussical. Otherwise, one never has trouble spotting William Ryall on the stage: "I'm the tallest of the Whos."

Another seasoned stage vet lending colorful eccentricity to the citizenry of Whoville was Jan Neuberger, who plays the dotty Grandma Who. "I love this character because she's daft," said Neuberger, an expert comedienne who does daft (most recently in Wicked).

Making a late and well-deserved entrance at the party, properly de-greened and de-grinched, was Patrick Page, exhibiting very socially acceptable behavior.

How does it feel to romp all over stage, spreading mischief and nasty deportment wherever he goes as The Grinch? He was candid: "Well, right now, it feels exhausting. We haven't had a day off in three weeks, and we do four shows a day on a Saturday, three shows on a Sunday—it's a 12-show week—so that and no days off really do it to you."

Is it any wonder his favorite moment in the show is when a little Who girl becalms and balladizes him and sings him out of his wicked, wicked ways? Plot-wise, compared to A Christmas Carol, this is like The Grinch getting Scrooged—and merry Christmas to all.