by MIKE CHAIKEN
When Dr. Seuss’s tales are translated to mediums outside of his books and the classic TV animated specials, it seems to be required by law that the central character is played in oversized, over-the-top manner.
Think Mike Myers in “The Cat in the Hat” or Jim Carrey in “How The Grinch Stole Christmas.”
These performances became one long zany stand-up routine – a feast for comedians whose diet solely consists of the zany.
Philip Huffman takes on the title role in this tour… a position he has held for three go-arounds for this Christmas classic.
Huffman grabs every scene his grumpy character appears in. He lights up every moment with his seemingly impromptu Seussical soliloquys. He made the crowd- which ranged in age from small children to seniors—double over in laughter.
The great thing is Huffman knew he was stealing every scene and he tried to top each moment with something even more outrageous the next second.
In many ways, this is a star turn reminiscent of Robin Williams’ best moments, such as the genie in “Aladdin” and the disc jockey Adrian Cronauer in “Good Morning, Vietnam.” Huffman’s approach also wonderfully follows the templates crafted by Myers and Carrey.
Despite the fact he is encased in makeup and costume, Huffman never lets the wardrobe get in the way of bringing the funny.
Just as important is Huffman’s singing voice, his surprising range adds unexpected humor to some of the musical numbers
Lily Jane, as the tiny Cindy-Lou Who, was simply adorable. Although a mere 7, Jane provided the heart and soul to the show that offset Huffman’s manic turns. Jane presented Cindy-Lou as the truest acolyte to the meaning of Christmas.
Jared Starkey as Young Max and Bob Lauder as the Old Max had the unenviable positions of trying to hold their against whirlwind of Huffman’s performance. And they did a great job at their task as the voice of reason that whispered quietly in the ears of the Grinch.
Set designer John Lee Beatty must be given an especially big huzzah for recreating Seuss’ iconic drawings into a set that made Whoville come to life. Beatty helped make the literary tale of the Grinch come alive.
The biggest drawback of this musical with boos and lyrics by Timothy Mason and music by Mel Marvin is the score.
The most rousing moment of the evening was the ubiquitous “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” which was written by Seuss himself and Albert Hague for the original cartoon special. And the fact that it is reprised in the show indicates the creators knew it was their golden ticket to please audiences.
The score written specifically for the show is serviceable. But there are no blockbuster moments in which you leave the theater singing the tune other than “You’re A Mean One…” The music was pleasant enough, and probably exciting for the younger audience members who were new to theater, but I expected something a little zanier from a show that allows the Grinch to go nuts.
“Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas” is decent enough. But without Huffman’s stellar performance, I wonder how well the show would have worked.
Side note: The show does not have an intermission. Plan ahead if you bring small children.
I give “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical”two-and-a-half stars out of five.
The show continues at the Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford Saturday, Dec. 14 at 4 and 7 p.m. and Sunday Dec. 15 at 1 and 4 p.m.
For information, visit Bushnell.org.