By Steven Suskin
09 Feb 2014
Dr. Seuss wrote his children's classic of the same title back in 1957, directly following "The Cat in the Hat." The book was made into a 27-minute animated television special in 1966, which due to annual holiday showings, became something of a small screen classic. A stage version — with a new score by Mel Marvin and Timothy Mason supplementing two songs from the TV special — premiered at the Children's Theatre of Milwaukee in 1995. Jack O'Brien, then artistic director of The Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, staged the show for the holidays in 1998. It instantly became one of the Old Globe's biggest hits, with repeat visits.
The outsized San Diego success convinced producers to bring the show to Broadway in 2007. O'Brien, who in the interim had directed Hairspray and other major hits, was at this point directing Tom Stoppard's three-part The Coast of Utopia and therefore unavailable. Thus, the show was entrusted to an assistant — and I would suggest that a major cause of the lack of magic in the Broadway Grinch was O'Brien's absence.
The CD serves as a reminder of the show's failings. There is a big difference between exuberant family entertainment (like Annie, Oliver! or A Christmas Story) and unengaging children's theatre. The Grinch falls in the latter category; while Seuss's original book is delightfully subversive, the musical falls flat.
The cast album starts out bright and snappy, thanks to Michael Starobin's overture. In fact, the orchestrations and the dance arrangements (by David Krane) continually perk things up, but there is little that can be done with the nursery school-like songs. (The lyrics, be they by Mason or originals from the Seuss tome, are of the "nifties"/"gifties" and "singing"/"tingalinging" variety.)
The one bright spot, musically, is the sinisterly slippery "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch," one of the two surviving songs from the TV special. This comes from composer Albert Hague (of Plain and Fancy and Redhead) and lyricist Seuss, and it is a little jewel. But there is not much that Page, Cullum and the others can do with the rest of the score, which leads one to wonder why anyone thought to put such time, effort and money to record this show six years after the Broadway opening.
(Steven Suskin is author of "Show Tunes," "The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations," "Second Act Trouble," the "Opening Night on Broadway" book and "The Book of Mormon: The Testament of a Broadway Musical." He also writes the Aisle View blog at The Huffington Post. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com.)