PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical — Lean, Mean and Green

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12 Nov 2007

From Top: Patrick Page; Jack O'Brien; Joshua Rosenbaum, Jan Neuberger and James Sanna; Rusty Ross; Hunter Bell; David Brooks and William Ryall; John Lee Beatty; B.D. Wong
From Top: Patrick Page; Jack O'Brien; Joshua Rosenbaum, Jan Neuberger and James Sanna; Rusty Ross; Hunter Bell; David Brooks and William Ryall; John Lee Beatty; B.D. Wong
Photo by Aubrey Reuben

For the second time in as many days, a green-skinned monster invaded Broadway: Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical bowed at the St. James on Nov. 9, one day after its previous Broadway home (the Hilton) was taken over by that rampaging mass of used body parts Young Frankenstein, stitched together and struck with lightning.

"Struck" turns out to be an unfortunate choice of word. Ten hours after its opening-night party at the Tropic Zone at Seventh and 49th Street, it became How the Stagehands Stole the Grinch. Its 11 AM Saturday matinee was the first show not to go on because of the walk out by Local One, the stagehands union, that shuttered 27 Broadway houses. And because this limited-run musical is on a 12-to-15-performance week (almost twice the normal performance schedule for Broadway shows), it stands to lose the most from the strike.

Weather-wise, it was also a rough re-entry to the Main Stem. The heavens parted and pounded the re-premiere with driving rain, much like the torrential dousing that greeted the Grinch when he first got to Broadway 364 days previously. Can this be the traditional welcome?

Although producer James Sanna is plainly hoping his Grinch will become a yearly event here — and is talking of road-company forays into places like Boston and Los Angeles at the same seasonal time — the cited reason for this season's reprise is to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Dr. Seuss' classic children's book, now a staple on the Kid Lit reading list. Sanna pointed out this little publishing footnote in his introductory remarks on stage, then introduced Teri Hatcher — a desperate housewife "and also a proud mom" — to read us into the show with a few pages from the original text.

Hatcher, wearing low-cut fire-engine red and surrounded by a gaggle of young'uns, began personally with, "Emerson, this is for you," and we were off to a color-coded holiday conflict of red states (the Christmas-crazy citizens of Whoville) versus green states (The Grinch, a lone, lonely holdout who hates all that cloying good-will-to-men stuff and relieves Whoville of its Christmas presents).

Robert Redford, no less, made the Broadway opening last year — his first since 1963 when he opened in Neil Simon's Barefoot in the Park. (Why this, you ask? His actress-daughter, Amy Redford, is engaged to the show's director, Matt August.) The opening-night star-power this year was markedly down; mostly, it was a matter of family outings. M. Butterfly's Tony-winning B.D. Wong and agent Richie Jackson brought the daughter they adopted. Shubert prexy Phil Smith treated his grandkids, Campbell and James Phillips, and their parents, Linda and Martin Phillips, to this delicious bonbon. First-nighters (so far, technically, only-nighters) saw a leaner show this year — the result of a year of rethinking and retooling — but almost half of the faces were familiar. Of a cast of 39, 18 are returnees, girded and ready to go after last year's record of 12 performances a week. First and foremost is Patrick Page, who now officially owns the title role. "He's very, very close to my heart," Page admitted. The Grinch that he pitches at us is a gleefully disagreeable old grouch so full of epicene overreach, mincing menace and throaty theatricality you start to suspect under all that green war-paint lurks Kathleen Turner. He is a perpetual pyrotechnic display. Being a five-year Lumiere no doubt helped. And also: "Some of the character is based on the Grinch cartoon, the way the body moves in the cartoon, and some of it is based just in animal work, like with apes and reptiles." This would be exhausting work eight times a week, let alone 15. "So far, I haven't missed any performances," he beamed. His secret: "I do at least 45 minutes of stretching every day. I do about a half-hour of vocal warmups because the growling and shouting and all of that. I have physical therapy twice a week. I have acupuncture and massage once a week, and I have a chiropractor three times a week. I have a lot of people helping me." The theatre helps as well: "The St. James is an amazing house to play. I must say, as much as I enjoyed doing the show last year at the Hilton, there is an enormous difference here in your ability to play the audience." (Opening-night late-comers got a severely sinister glower; one shudders to think what will happen if a forgotten cellphone goes off.)


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