Grinch Cast 2023How do you create a musical about a story that others have told, set to music, and virtually everyone has seen?

Dr. Seuss published the enormously popular Christmas story "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" in 1957, and it became one of the most popular children's books of all time. In 1966, Chuck Jones, Ben Washam, Boris Karloff, and Thurl Ravenscroft brought the story to life with a musical animated television special. A 200 live-action adaptation and a 2018 animated movie followed. Most recently, Timothy Mason (book) and Mel Marvin (music) created a Broadway musical version of the Grinch's story. A current national tour of this passed through Chicago, where I saw it Saturday evening at the Cadillac Palace Theatre.

Just as in Seuss's original story, the green misanthropic hermit Grinch despises Christmas enough that he conspires to steal all the presents from the nearby town of Whoville to cancel Christmas and bring sorrow to the Whos that live therein.

The new musical incorporates many of the melodies from the 1966 TV show set to updated arrangements mixed with new numbers. The new songs are good, but the classics deliver the most punch. Near the end, the entire audience sang "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch," as Max, the dog, flipped cards to reveal the lyrics. The sing-along refocused the many children in the audience whose attention span wandered.

Much of the dialogue was lifted directly from Seuss's book, and extra dialogue consisted of Seuss-inspired rhymes. Even the sets looked very much like Dr. Seuss's artwork.

There were a few differences. An older version of Grinch's dog Max (played beautifully by Bob Lauder) served as narrator of the story (replacing Boris Karloff's excellent job in the 1966 version). And muppet-like muppets appeared as a chorus of Whos a few times during the show.

Anthony Cataldo was excellent as the title character. His mangy green fur and long fingers made him creepy enough to scare anyone, but his wiry frame made him fun to watch.

This adaptation was very faithful to the source material. Singing and dancing stretched the running time to 85 minutes. The short run-time was perfect, given the number of young children in attendance and the shorter attention span typical of boys and girls.

I grew up with the Grinch's story. I read it and watched it many times as a boy and with my boys. I enjoyed this retelling of a familiar tale.