But, it turns out, that all adds spice to the “Grinch” viewing experience, an otherwise middling two hours directed by Julia Knowles. Taped at London’s Troubadour Theatre in lieu of a live broadcast, this attempt at the heartwarming tale makes the Grinch’s hatred of song and dance seem reasonable. Halfway through, you might find yourself advocating for the Whos to adopt his way of life.
This is only the latest adaptation of the Dr. Seuss book about the hairy green recluse with a too-small heart, of course, including Chuck Jones’s animated special, two movies and, most relevant, the stage version by Timothy Mason and Mel Marvin that wound up on Broadway in the mid-aughts. Especially after forgoing the Grinch’s trademark growl, Morrison can’t hold a candle to Jim Carrey’s cinematic take. Nor did the musical ever stand a chance at capturing the spirit of Jones’s classic.
Tack on a production that fails to immerse the audience in Whoville’s musical charm, and you’ve got a show that ceaselessly reminds you of your misguided decision to sit on the couch — a couch the Grinch hates, as he spits directly into the camera — and watch Morrison climb on top of tables, twirling his green hair in a disturbingly flirty manner. It’s not unlike the behavior that made his “Glee” character, an inarguably inappropriate high school teacher, so unlikeable in the first place.
This Grinch is essentially a furry Mr. Schue taking out his pent-up anger on innocent townspeople. And, as with Mr. Schue, you at least have to hand it to Morrison for his clear commitment to the performance. But that doesn’t make it any less haunting.
Maybe it would’ve worked out had Morrison lived up to his “Joker” steps promise (a sentence you’ll never hear from me again). The Grinch’s troubled psyche, shaped by solitude and years of neglect, has always been an interesting layer to the juvenile story. But each time it seemed the show might head in that direction, NBC cut to commercial or the character would break the fourth wall. How could anyone possibly stay invested in Cindy-Lou Who (Amelia Minto) lamenting the Grinch’s lonely existence when he responds, “Let’s hear it for the single folk” with his massive hips swaying?
The Whos often stand in as the audience proxy, but the musical hands that duty to Old Max, an aged version of the Grinch’s dog, played by an excellent Denis O’Hare. The Tony winner opens the show as its narrator — perhaps setting expectations too high — and returns throughout, performing “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” just over an hour in (finally, a good song!). Young Max (Booboo Stewart) is a chipper delight, dancing alongside Morrison as he tags along on the Christmas heist.
Whatever points the musical gets for the Maxes and its nostalgic, Seussian set design — perhaps the only element to truly nail the exaggerated style of the source material — it loses when the Grinch enters the picture. If only this were a musical about Old Max. Instead, the Grinch repeatedly interrupts the dog at one point, yelling as he is dragged away, “This is my Emmy nomination! Stop! Stop!”
We live in bleak times, Morrison, but not that bleak. Better luck next Christmas.