The Grinch – stealing hearts and making Christmas at the Alex in Birmingham this Yuletide

THE MUCH-loved legend of American children’s literature, Theodore ‘Dr’ Seuss, wrote ‘How the Grinch stole Christmas’ over six decades ago back in 1957. He penned it in rhymed verse and also illustrated it himself.

In 1966, it was adapted as an animation featuring the voice of Boris Karloff and then 34 years later at the millennium became much more widely known in this country via the live action film starring Jim Carrey. Only last year, a new animated version was made featuring Benedict Cumberbatch.

The musical, with book and lyrics by Timothy Mason and original score by Mel Marvin made its debut in Minneapolis in November 1994, after special arrangements had been made with the Dr Seuss estate to exclusively adapt and perform the book.

It opened on Broadway in 2006 and now finally gets its UK premiere at our own Alexandra Theatre here in Birmingham.

The production is refreshingly true to the book in that the dialogue remains in rhymed verse and the quite wonderful set is like a series of black-and-white hand drawings coming to life.

As if to endorse the homage to Dr Seuss a group of children from the audience are invited onto the stage pre-curtain where the stage manager reads the start of the original book to them before we are transformed to Whoville.

Our narrator is a dog, well two dogs actually – West End veteran Steve Fortune immediately endears as ‘Old Max’ whilst X Factor winner Matt Terry, is as deft on his feet as he is with his lungs as ‘Young Max’.

Talent abounds everywhere with stand out ‘Who citizen’ performances from Karen Ascoe as Grandma, David Bardsley as Grandpa, Holly Dale Spencer as Mama and Alan Pearson as Papa Who.

Edward Baker-Duly is truly magical as the grumpy Grinch, the poor misguided solitary creature who goes on a mission to steal everything Christmassy from the homes of the citizens of Whoville on Christmas Eve.  Baker-Duly dances, sings and cajoles us into believing he is indeed the Grinch personified.

The story is a sort of morality tale and whilst the Grinch does indeed try to ruin that ‘most wonderful time of the year;’ along with him we remember the true meaning of Christmas not the commercial one which leaves many a family in debt for months.

There are four young girls playing Cindy Lou Who – on press night we witnessed the amazing talents of Isla Gie – not just a star in the making but one that has arrived. At just nine years old she has already toured the UK in Les Miserables and now this, where the entire audience took her heartstring tugging performance into their hearts.

Shout-outs to Costume Designer Robert Morgan for stunning and ‘Who’ accurate  frocks, likewise John Lee Beatty for his storybook set, Matt August as a Director who makes the journey clear, Choreographer Bob Richard for the faultless footwork and Richard John the musical director whose baton conducts an orchestra par excellence.

This Grinch doesn’t steal Christmas he makes it – why we even get snow falling in the auditorium as the story ends – sending us happily out into the night a merry bunch.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas runs until Saturday, December 7, at the Alexandra Theatre.

Click here for times, tickets and more information.

A long time-coming but this UK premiere is well worth the wait.

****Review by Euan Rose.

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