It may be a bit early for some of us to be thinking about the holiday season, but within the Minneapolis theater community it was snowing long before Nov. 10.
And the first theater to begin its holiday celebrations this season was the Children’s Theater Company.
The CTC opened their production of Dr. Seuss’ “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” on Nov. 11.
For many, this beloved Christmas story has become an intricate part of holiday celebrations, and for the CTC it has become an intricate part of their history.
The CTC was not only the first theater ever to produce and perform “How The Grinch Stole Christmas,” but it was the first theater in the world to produce any Dr. Seuss shows.
In 1973, Theodor Geisel, Dr. Seuss, granted the CTC rights to one show, so the theater performed Dr. Seuss’ “The 500 Hats Of Bartholomew Cubbins.”
Geisel came to see the performance and afterwards declared, “That’s Seussian!”
Thus, the theater was granted rights to one more show, and in 1994 they debuted “How The Grinch Stole Christmas.”
Now, on the 20th anniversary, the CTC is putting on its seventh version of the show.
As ages vary in CTC’s audiences (children of all ages are welcome to see any of the shows) audiences may have various experiences with the story. For some, it may be their first time hearing the story, for others it may be the hundredth.
But director Peter C. Brosius says no matter how well you know the book, the cartoon film, the live action film or any other version, this version, at its core, stays true to the magic of the story.
“I think there is more heart here. And more mystery and more poetry,” Brosius said of the play over the live action film. “[As with the book you] fill in your own detail. This piece can be different for every person in the audience.”
Immediately, the sets draw you into the world of Whoville. Bright colors, soft edges and glittering snow cover the stage.
The Whos of Whoville appear as if they stepped off the pages of the book. The costumes are padded to give the actors the odd shapes of Whos; larger bottoms, wider hips or just generally more rounded. The hair is wild, the faces are rouged and everyone’s eyebrows are painted about an inch higher than they normally fall on the face. And Cindy-Lou Who is adorably innocent and kind.
The songs are bright and fun, and the actors do a wonderful job of keeping the energy up during each number.
And, of course, the show is complete with the grumpiest Who, or “what,” in Whoville, the Grinch himself.
Company member Reed Sigmund take on the legendary role of the Grinch. And he is genius.
He appears to incorporate elements from the live action film, at times sounding a bit like Jim Carrey, but offers some of his own nastiness to the character, such as when he gargles the milk on the fireplace and spits it back in the cup, or tricks Max by pretending to toss a pie to him.
Sigmund also plays shamelessly with the audience, playing up the Grinch’s utter lack of personal skills by getting in people’s faces and playing with their hair.
But the moment Sigmund shines the most is during his number with Natalie Tran (Cindy-Lou).
The young Who is signing to the Grinch, who she believes is Santa, and telling him how much she loves him.
Tran’s clear, angelic voice fits perfectly with the child-like purity of the song, a child’s love of Santa and wonder at Christmas. And Sigmund does a wonderful job of showing how much the kindness affects the Grinch, who is not accustomed to being cared for or receiving love.
The whole cast does an extraordinary job of taking a classic story and adding new elements while staying true to the core message. So much so, that I feel I can echo Geisel and say, “That’s Seussian!”
“At its core, it’s a story of several things. One, it’s the story about the possibility of human transformation. Can we change?…Can we grow our heart? Can we be our best selves?” Brosius said. “Can a community come together? Can a community welcome an outsider? What’s that like. And, what’s the spirit of this holiday?”
Just as Dr. Seuss’ works aim to entertain and educate children, so too does the CTC, which is perhaps why this show works so well at this venue. The CTC is a company that understands that entertainment can offer important messages for children, and there’s always a new lesson we can learn whether we are 5 or 50.
For those interested in seeing the show, buy your tickets as soon as possible. Brosius said as of Friday, Nov. 14 the show was extremely close to being sold out for the entire run.
Dr. Seuss’ “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” is playing now through Jan. 4. Tickets cost between $25 and $80. Performance dates and times vary. For more information visit the Children’s Theater Company online.