FINDING BIGFOOT. “Hi. I’m Matt Moneymaker. We’re here at a Whoville Town Hall meeting. Show of hands: How many’ve seen a big, brown-haired creature?
Cindy-Loo Who. “Me! Me! Only his hair wasn’t brown. It was green, and he could channel Elvis, and John Wayne, and ex-governor-what’s-his-enager. And he knew about hashtags, and said 'what up, dawg,' to young Max, and…”
And Steve Blanchard’s Grinch manages the near-impossible: he wins over the audience twice.
First, although obviously an off-kilter simian whose heart is “two sizes too small” - and hates Christmas, children, and all things Who - he does self-centered razzmatazz (“One of a Kind”) and earns round after round of warm applause.
Then, after ransacking every Christmas present – and ornament – in Whoville, he wins approval once again when Cindy-Loo sings “Santa for a Day.” Blanchard drops character and un-Scrooges himself before our eyes.
This is Blanchard’s third go-around in the title role. He’s found a deft way of being just mean enough to turn a snowdrift green, and yet entertain throughout, as if, deep down, the 53-year-old Grinch is an old vaudevillian hoofer miscast as a meanie.
This is the Old Globe’s 16th annual version, conceived and directed by Jack O’Brien (whose memoir, Jack Be Nimble, could be a stocking-stuffer for local theater buffs), with music by Mel Marvin (composer of Yentl and Tintypes) and book and lyrics by Timothy Mason (Levitation, Babylon Gardens).
Since 2003, director James Vasquez has kept it as fresh as the original.
That’s no mean feat. The story’s simple, but the staging demands many a kaleidoscopic effect: the pear-shaped Who’s – their costumes variations on a candy cane – flow and swirl; as does John Lee Beatty’s cartoon-like set, where gigantic scoops of snow (are those walrus tusks dangling from Mt. Crumpit?) must float on and off with a choreography all their own.
One of the best parts of the tradition: San Diego actors get a paid gig.
Geno and Nancy Carr, indefatigable Eileen Bowman, Bets Malone, Kurt Norby, and (possibly setting a record for most musical appearances in a year - make that most successful appearances) Randall Dodge, plus a passel of youngsters getting professional experience –especially seven-year-old Gabriella Dimmick who played Cindy-Lou the night I caught the show (she doubles with Taylor Coleman) and sang the house down.
Jeffrey Schecter scores as Young Max, the Grinch’s loyal mutt. And Steve Gunderson plays Old Max, quite effectively, in a different key. Grinch is actually a memory play. Old Max returns to the site of recollected fondness. And, Gunderson suggests without forcing the thought, he could use some today.
The original Old Max went for laughs. Gunderson doesn’t. He makes a touching, understated transformation almost as sweeping as the Grinch’s.