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    Review: A kinder, gentler Grinch takes the stage in Costa Mesa
    • December 20, 2023

    While “nice” lists at Christmastime usually have “who’s-been?” names aplenty, there are comparatively few big-name seasonal “naughties.” .

    Scrooge is the literary king, of course. Mr. Potter of “It’s a Wonderful Life” surely makes the cut. A hundred or so other forgettable Christmas movies needed at least one semi-baddie to fund plot conflicts.

    But for worst of the worst, is it the Grinch who takes the cake? (Actually, in Dr. Seuss’ Grinch myth-origin book, he snatched more than cake: “He took the Who’s feast, he took the Who pudding, in fact he took the roast beast.”)

    So, the Grinch is as beastly as it gets. And given he steals not just dinner, but all Whoville’s toys, fireplace stockings and even decorated trees it makes for a legitimate argument for his worst-ness.

    But in the touring theater version “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Who Stole Christmas! The Musical,” which arrived in timely fashion at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts for a matinee-packed, one-week run, we encounter a many-tones-of green oversize mop of the Grinch (Joshua Woodie) who is fairly harmless and periodically charming.

    That’s also a reasonably accurate summary of the 85-minute, intermission free musical itself.

    The show is narrated by the Grinch’s dog Max. Actually, there are two generations of Max, with older/scruffier Max (W. Scott Stewart) as our reminiscing narrator, telling the tale in flashback.

    The younger/friskier-tailed Max (Brian Cedric Jones) gives the Grinch someone to scheme aloud to in real time.  Plus, this Max briefly morphs into a canine version of Santa’s reindeer on Christmas Eve as Grinch flies away from his mountain aerie as a turncoat changeling Santa, off to creep down Whoville chimneys and steal toys, not give them out.

    This show’s Grinch is a bit different than the source material. His intent here is less about greed and swiping stuff than generating tidings of no comfort and misery. His stated goal is to halt the joy of Christmas Day itself from dawning in Whoville.

    As in the book, his redeemer is young Cindy-Lou Who (Aerina DeBoer) who likes the Grinch from the get-go, somehow aware that underneath his greenie-meanie exterior are loneliness and self-image issues that her hugs and friendliness can salve.

    “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical” will play at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa through Dec. 24. (Photo by Jeremy Daniel)

    Given Seuss wrote his 1957 book for the age 3-8 demographic, you don’t go in expecting Sondheim. But the many un-catchy original songs in this show — with a couple exceptions — are serviceable at best and irritatingly chirpy when it comes to the Whos prattling on en masse about how besotted they are with Christmas.

    This is squeamishly underscored because even while singing “It’s the Thought That Counts,” make no mistake, for these furry roly-polies — clad in decidedly Target bold red to marshmallow-y pinks – it’s ALL about the swag.

    The show perks up whenever the Grinch takes center stage. Without question the top musical number is his one-man “One of a Kind.” Performed in front of a curtain of shimmering green tinsel it’s about as Broadway razzamatazz-y of a production number as this show has.

    The other notable number is from the original 1966 animated half-hour made-for-TV telling. “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” has lyrics written by Seuss himself. In this production, a reprise of that tune found the Grinch shining (green, of course) footlights into the audience to help generate a sing-along from a very willing audience.

    Woodie’s take on the Grinch is quite appealing. He somehow conveys slyness and being perplexed underneath all the facial pancake makeup. At one point, in disguise and wearing a cowboy hat to trick the Whos, when asked where he is from, the actor took a beat, then Texas-drawled out the reply “Who-ston”.

    As one of the production’s two rotating Cindy-Lous, DeBoer’s crystalline vocals were on impeccable display Tuesday night during her duet with the Grinch in “Santa for a Day.”

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    In a decidedly non-scientific poll after the curtain drop, I surveyed 5-year-old Nico Cespedes of Ontario who was with his mom and had been sitting next to me.

    Cespedes had just seen his first-ever live theater show, and despite being a bit unsure about being in the dark when the house lights were first turned off, the number of dimples he flashed afterwards confirmed he had a very good time.

    And, in search of a final verdict on the question of relative moral turpitude, did he think the Grinch was really bad?

    “No. He was awesome,” Cespedes ruled. Then, rendering an unasked-for costuming opinion, he approvingly added, “He was really green!”

    ‘Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Who Stole Christmas! The Musical’

    Rating: 3 stars (out of a possible four).

    When: Through Dec. 24; 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m., 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Sunday

    Where: Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

    Tickets: $59-$149

    Information: 949-556-2787;

    ​ Orange County Register