Christmas in Whoville: Old Globe skillfully stages annual classic

The Conrad Prebys Theatre Center Plaza in front of The Old Globe in Balboa Park is a beautiful, fun reminder of the upcoming holiday season. The lights, and especially the very tall Grinch Tree, is a delight for all ages. Watching families take pictures in front of it and seeing children’s smiles is the prefect prelude to “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” a few steps away on The Shiley Stage through Dec. 26.

Once inside the theater, the excitement can be felt as the aisles fill with parents and small children snuggling into their seats to await the curtain parting to reveal a snow-covered Whoville.

One of the favorite characters of this charming tale is first on stage. A round of applause welcomes Old Max (Steve Gunderson), the dog who has dropped by Whoville to take one more look around before he leaves town. Gunderson has filled this role several times before, but he’s just as lovable and fresh this season as if it were his first. In recalling the story, we meet his younger self, Young Max (Tyrone Davis, Jr.), who wiggles and flops and looks right into the eyes of the kids in the audience and makes them laugh.

As Old and Young Max explain what’s about to happen in “This Time of Year,” Whoville awakens with kids, Mama Who, Papa Who, Grandma and Grandpa Who and townspeople merrily filling the stage singing, “Who Likes Christmas?”

Naturally, all this merriment seems too good to be true. Suddenly we know why, as the big, tall, mean, old Grinch (J. Bernard Galloway) comes to town and lets all in Whoville know exactly how he feels when he sings, “I Hate Christmas.”

But when he’s approached by Cindy-Lou Who, who thinks he is Santa Claus, it’s really hard to be mean to her. Mia Davila (kids Pink team) has a beautiful voice and is absolutely adorable making her stage debut as Cindy-Lou Who.

However, Cindy-Lou’s charm is not enough to change the hardened heart of the Grinch … at least not yet! He grumbles, repeats how he dislikes Christmas and then steals everything about Christmas in Whoville. Children are captivated by what will happen next (since it’s all taken from the book) and it’s very entertaining.

The entire cast is incredible in creating their characters. James Vasquez does a terrific job directing, and the stage managers and production staff must also be complimented.

I’ve seen the show several times and enjoy it more each time. However, two things caught my attention. Keeping the word “hate” out of their child’s vocabulary has been a big topic in social media, so I’m not sure how some parents will respond to that word repeated over and over in the show, although it is the title of one song.

Also, when the Grinch is in a shadowed scene in his sleigh being led by the reindeer, he uses a whip that was slapped (making a very loud noise three or four times) as he is supposedly hitting the reindeer. I heard a child ask why he was hurting the reindeer ... I’m curious if that might be a problem.

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IF YOU GO: ‘Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!’ plays through Dec. 26 on the Shiley Stage at The Old Globe Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park, San Diego. Tickets from $37 for adults, $24 for ages 17 and under. Children under age 3 admitted to 11 a.m. performances only, which are open to all ages. (619) 23-GLOBE. theoldglobe.org

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