Monday, November 19, 2018

REVIEW: Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical at the Chicago Theatre

Chi, IL LIVE Shows On Our Radar

Guest Review 
by Kimberly Robb Baker
Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical at the Chicago Theatre, directed by Matt August with book and lyrics by Timothy Mason and music by Mel Marvin, was a lovely family treat that deftly balanced sweet and salty flavors.

Zoya & Sadie enjoying The Grinch
Photo Credit: Kim Mohiuddin

I saw the show with my eight-year-old daughter Zoya and her six-year-old friend Sadie. The kids loved the Chicago Theatre itself. Running around taking photos of the architecture and each other in its Versailles-like space was fantastic pre-show entertainment. Obligingly, there was a nice Grinch cutout just for such photo ops. Attending families were in the hum-bug spirit—one little one dressed as The Grinch and few parties were sporting matching Grinch gear. One group reported that the show is an annual ritual.

Gavin Lee as the Grinch, was brilliant and truly used his body as an instrument. His physical comedy chops were sharp, but his movements, down to expertly wielding the tufts of green fur at the end of his fingers to fidget and strum and clean and eat his ear wax, really brought the green grump to life.

Zoya especially liked the scene of pandemonium where we saw the Grinch envisioning everything he hates about Christmas and Whos. It was reminiscent of the original Shrek book in which Shrek has a “nightmare” that he’s surrounded by happy, singing children. Oh, the humanity… er monster-ity! We observed here that the Grinch seemed sensitive to all the noise and lights of the season. In this and throughout, he was uncomfortable with physical touch and direct eye contact. It’s enough to make one wonder if he simply had un-addressed sensory issues.

Avery Sell played Cindy Lou Who the night we went. She was a right little Christmas bonbon opposite the Grinch’s lump of coal. Sell has a beautiful voice and embodied the unique Who culture and physical habits (like holding hands horizontally bent out from the wrists à la the Dr. Seuss drawings and responding to “air” head-pats with sparkly little shimmies).

Speaking of Who-ness, the entire cast be-bopped about Whoville as ambassadors of Christmas fun. It would all have been a bit too much if it weren’t for a number on Whoville’s main street that highlighted how their Christmas cheer had been tainted by materialism. It was a relevant critique of our own society and served the purpose of demonstrating that the Whos had as much to learn from this experience as the Grinch did.  

The sets and lighting were impressive and true to the original Dr. Seuss drawings. In one of our favorite scenes, the Grinch and his dog Max were convincingly portrayed sledding down the mountainside to Whoville at breakneck speed. Clever drops quickly moved us through various locations, provided a snow effect that made the girls gasp, and created a Vegas showroom atmosphere for the Grinch’s more self-aggrandizing moments.

The costumes were equally fantastical. One of Sadie’s favorite parts was the way the Grinch’s illuminated so she could see his heart growing.

It was a clever trick to make an older Max (the dog) into the narrator, and Ken Land brings the right amount of austereness to the role, balanced by the tremendous physicality of his young dog self. The youthful Max was perfectly played by Aleksa Kurbalija. He was the quintessential Grinch’s best friend, as instrumental as Cindy Lou in his master's transformation.

Zoya complained that we never find out why elder Max is leaving Whoville, which is a great point as the entire setup of the story is based on the conceit that he’s looking back over his life as he relocates in his old age.  

I wish the cast had been more diverse. There seemed to be three people of color in a cast of about twenty. However, none of them had (major/noticeable) lines and the puppets meant to portray the Whos from a distance (an uber creative idea that worked well otherwise), all appeared white. This vanilla vestige of Seuss’s era needs updating.

The production was just the right length for younger children, and both girls raved about the rousing closing number. If you’re looking for family holiday fun and a way to expose your children to theatre, The Grinch is the gift that keeps on giving.

Kimberly Robb Baker is a Chicago based writer, blogger, consultant, story teller, and mother. You can find her worky stuff here: and her artsy fartsy stuff here:

**Tickets range from $35-$125** 

Out of 1,125 entries, congrats again to Jennifer K, ChiIL Mama's WINNER of 4 orchestra tickets (up to $500 value) to opening night, Friday, November 16th, 2018.

The Madison Square Garden Company announced that two-time Tony Award®-nominated Broadway actor Gavin Lee will steal Christmas this season in the title role of the Grinch in Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical. This limited holiday engagement will run at The Chicago Theatre from November 16 through November 25, 2018. Tickets are on sale now.

Lee was most recently on Broadway as the tap-dancing show stopper Squidward Tentacles in SpongeBob SquarePants, for which he received his second Tony nomination. Previously, Lee originated the role of Bert in Mary Poppins on West End (Olivier nomination), Broadway (Tony nomination and Drama Desk Award) and on the first national tour. The British-born actor and proud dad of three is also known for his recurring role of Alan Woodford on USA Network’s “White Collar.”

“I am thrilled to step in to the furry, stinky green shoes of the world’s most beloved Christmas bad boy this holiday season,” Lee said. “As a dad myself, I know first-hand the magic of introducing kids to live theater and I look forward to hearts growing three sizes as they experience this beloved story in a whole new way…live on stage!”

More than two million audience members have already discovered the magic of Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical. Featuring the hit songs “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and “Welcome Christmas,” the Grinch discovers there’s more to Christmas than he bargained for in this heart-warming holiday musical that The New York Times hails as “100 times better than any bedtime story.”  Max the Dog narrates as the mean and scheming Grinch, whose heart is “two sizes too small,” decides to steal Christmas away from the holiday-loving Whos.

Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical features magnificent sets designed by John Lee Beatty and costumes designed by Robert Morgan that are inspired by Dr. Seuss’ original book. Mel Marvin and Timothy Mason’s music and book breathe new life into this timeless story. The 2018 production is directed by Matt August and choreographed by Bob Richard, based on the original choreography by John DeLuca. Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical was originally created by three-time Tony Award®-winning director, Jack O’Brien. The show is produced by Running Subway Productions and Big League Productions.

For more information about Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical at The Chicago Theatre, visit Tickets are available at The Chicago Theatre box office, all Ticketmaster outlets and Ticketmaster phone charge 1.800.745.3000. Groups of nine or more please call GroupTix at (773) 327-3778; discounts are available for groups of 20 or more. Tickets starting at $35.

Gavin Lee Credits:
Broadway: Squidward in SpongeBob SquarePants - The Broadway Musical (Tony nomination, Drama Desk Award), Thenadier in Les Misérables, Bert in Disney's Mary Poppins (Tony and Olivier nominations, Drama Desk and Theater World Awards). Other theater: Showboat (Carnegie Hall), Holiday Inn (World premiere, Goodspeed), Mary Poppins (1st National Tour), The Nerd (Bucks County Playhouse). London's West End: Top Hat, Mary Poppins, Crazy For You, Peggy Sue Got Married, Me And My Girl, Oklahoma! and Contact.  TV: 'Woodford' in “White Collar” (season six), “Law and Order SVU”, “The Good Wife”.

About The Madison Square Garden Company

The Madison Square Garden Company (MSG) is a world leader in live sports and entertainment experiences.  The company presents or hosts a broad array of premier events in its diverse collection of iconic venues: New York’s Madison Square Garden, The Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall and Beacon Theatre; the Forum in Inglewood, CA; The Chicago Theatre; and the Wang Theatre in Boston.  Other MSG properties include legendary sports franchises: the New York Knicks (NBA), the New York Rangers (NHL) and the New York Liberty (WNBA); two development league teams –  the Westchester Knicks (NBAGL) and the Hartford Wolf Pack (AHL); and esports teams through Counter Logic Gaming, a leading North American esports organization, and Knicks Gaming, MSG’s NBA 2K League franchise.  In addition, the Company features the popular original production – the Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes – and through Boston Calling Events, produces New England’s preeminent Boston Calling Music Festival. Also under the MSG umbrella is TAO Group, a world-class hospitality group with globally-recognized entertainment dining and nightlife brands: Tao, Marquee, Lavo, Avenue, The Stanton Social, Beauty & Essex and Vandal.  More information is available at

Disclosure: It's our pleasure to partner up with The Madison Square Garden Company and The Chicago Theatre on this sponsored post. They have provided us with complimentary tickets for our giveaway and for review purposes. As always, all opinions are our own.

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