This 'Grinch' will steal your heart

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- If you're trying to hide something, and small children are watching, you'd be surprised how little you can slip past them.

Timothy Mason, the book writer and lyricist for the musical adaptation of "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas" obviously knows this.

Mason fleshed out the character of little Cindy-Lou Who by having her show compassion to the Grinch, masquerading as Santa Claus in the little girl's home, in an effort to steal Christmas presents. This "St. Nick" obviously wants to get the heck out of the home as fast as he can, but first he must get past the concern and charm of the girl"-- easier said than done.

This addition to Dr. Seuss' original beloved children's tale is one of the strenghts of the musical that's playing at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts through Dec. 27 in a national touring production that will delight young and old.

Why, even the heart of Miss Hannigan, the little girl hater from "Annie," might grow three sizes larger while listening to tiny Genny Gagnon , as Cindy-Lou Who, express concern about the mood of the Grinch disguised as Santa.

Gagnon, with a little, sweet voice and beautifully, without missing a beat, conveying an adorable precociousness, played the little girl during the production I saw Saturday night (Gagnon alternates playing the part with Rachel Katzke).

Fans of Dr. Seuss' book will be pleased with the musical's faithfulness to the thin children's book.

Older audience members will appreciate re-hearing advice about life, such as "It's not the gifts we give, it's the thought that counts!" The story's overall message that Christmas is about more than material possessions will also resonate with the more mature folks.

People of all ages, especailly children, will marvel at the deliciously colorful storybook set that serves as eye candy; you might need to brush your eyes and rinse them after taking in a performance. Picture an animated Christmas village or Santa's workshop in a winter wonderland complete with snow falling, confetti flying, different colored balloons and lights glowing, and you'll mentally picture John Lee Beatty's visually wowing set.

It's complemented by Pat Collins' lighting design, which bathes the set in green during various scenes with the Grinch (his themed color). The lighting brightens during the play's upbeat songs such as "Welcome, Christmas" and "Who Likes Christmas," sung with verve by a playfully energetic cast conveying Christmas cheer. The lighting darkens during less cheery moments. They include songs such as "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch."

Mason, the lyricist and musical book writer, honors Dr. Seuss' clever writing in rhymed verse with such vivid lyrics as these:

You're a mean one Mr. Grinch
You really are a heel.
You're as cuddly as a cactus,
And as charming as an eel,
Mr. Grinch!
You're a bad banana,
With a greasy black peel!
You're a monster, Mr. Grinch!
Your heart's an empty hole.
Your brain is full of spiders.
You've got garlic in your soul,
Mr. Grinch!
I wouldn't touch you
With a thirty-nine-and-a-half foot pole!

Yuk! Who'd want to be in the same room with such a creature?

More people than you'd expect. The Grinch is a popular, showy villian in the vein of Captain Hook. He's less dark than that other grinch, Ebenezer Scrooge, but like Scrooge, he's amenable to change. That's never more apparent then when, at the end of the show, Cindy-Lou Who embraces the green grouch and he happily embraces her back.

Stefan Karl, who's no stranger to playing the bad guy (he's best known for portraying the villain Robbie Rotten in the television series "Lazy Town") seems born to play the Grinch. His grinch speaks in a scratchy voice and he sometimes growls with anger, taking on a primitive, animalistic demeanor. Karl's Grinch is also scheming and showy without overacting. Finally, Karl shows his vocal range, hitting the ceiling on one note.

The musical is told in a form familiar to anyone who's seen "A Christmas Story" on stage, either the musical or the straight play adaptation. The Grinch's grown dog (Bob Lauder plays Old Max and a nimble, vivacious Matt Weinstein portrays Young Max) narrates the tale in flashback with an adult distance and familiarity as though the events just happened. Such a technique can make us smile and shake our heads with nostalgia as we're reminded of our own youthful, mischevious days.

One of the most important qualities of a musical such as this is it provides children with an introduction to live performance. It's a fun, fast-paced tale that might just get them hooked when it comes to theater going.

IF YOU GO

WHAT: "Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas."

WHEN: Different times through Dec. 27.

WHERE: Au-Rene Theater at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 S.W. 5th Ave., Fort Lauderdale. For tickets, visit http://www.ticketmaster.com/Dr-Seuss-How-the-Grinch-Stole-tickets/artist/1062083