By Steven Suskin
09 Feb 2014
Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! [Masterworks Broadway]
Back in the mid-1990s — a time when Broadway typically had multiple theatres sitting empty through the winter, awaiting spring openings — producers began toying with the notion of producing seasonal fare for the holidays that would appeal to all those audiences who flocked to see the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Show. There had already been a successful Broadway-style seasonal show, the Alan Menken/Lynn Ahrens A Christmas Carol from director Mike Ockrent and choreographer Susan Stroman. But that didn't actually play Broadway; it was produced at what was then the Paramount — and is now the Theatre at Madison Square Garden — for ten Decembers, starting in 1994.
The idea of mounting a new seasonal musical on Broadway came to fruition with Dr. Suess' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! which opened in November 2006 at what was then called the Hilton (and is presently the Foxwoods). The show seemed to do adequate business; it's impossible to tell, as high grosses don't necessarily mean that a show is turning a profit. (Remember Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark?) The Grinch returned the following November to the St. James, where it ran head on into a stagehand strike and permanently called it quits after New Year's.
This formula was tried once again, somewhat more successfully, with a stage version of Irving Berlin's White Christmas. This was a better musical than The Grinch and presumably more successful, but basically a rewarmed version of a subpar motion picture. White Christmas had a significantly better business plan than The Grinch, with additional companies touring for the Thanksgiving/Christmas period. The show made it through two editions at the Marquis, in 2008 and 2009, and has quickly worked its way into a stock & amateur perennial, which was the idea in the first place.
Next came Elf, based on the film comedy of the same title. This was significantly better than the earlier holiday musicals and altogether cheerful, thanks in part to an entertaining score from Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin plus canny staging by a pre-The Book of Mormon Casey Nicholaw. Elf played the holiday season of 2010 at the Hirschfeld, couldn't find a home in 2011, and returned to 45th Street in 2012.
The best of these seasonal shows thus far, by far, is A Christmas Story, The Musical. (I don't consider this to be merely a good holiday musical — it is a first-rate Broadway musical, holiday or otherwise.) With a skillfully delectable score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, A Christmas Story played the Lunt in 2012 and the Theatre at Madison Square Garden in 2013, and one hopes it will continue to reappear for the enjoyment of children and adults alike. The show already had a long history prior to Broadway: After starting in 2009 in Kansas City, it was remounted for holiday tours in 2010 (with Pasek & Paul replacing the original songwriter) and 2011 (with John Rando replacing the original director).
What makes this discussion relevant is the surprising appearance — six years after its premiere — of a new, professionally-produced CD of Dr. Suess' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! Four of the original cast leads were brought into the studio last August, along with a full cast and a good portion of the pit band (which has been significantly augmented for the occasion). We are always glad to have cast recordings come along, but one has to wonder: Why?Continued...