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Article updated: 11/30/2012 3:48 PM

Musical 'Grinch' posed to become a holiday tradition

By Barbara Vitello

"You write very good Seuss."

The doctor himself -- Theodor Geisel -- reportedly offered that compliment to writer/lyricist Timothy Mason. Thus began the collaboration that led to "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical," said Matt August, director of the 2006 Broadway premiere and touring productions, including the Broadway in Chicago show opening Wednesday at the Cadillac Palace Theatre.

The first stage incarnation of Seuss' 1957 tale debuted at Minneapolis' Children's Theatre Company in the 1990s, August said. In 1998, the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego introduced a retooled version under former artistic director Jack O'Brien. August assumed the reins when producers decided to take the show to Broadway.

August acknowledges the challenges that accompany adapting a much-loved tale, one that is seen often thanks to the annual rebroadcast of the 1966 animated television special as well as the 2000 film starring Jim Carrey.

Meeting those challenges required telling the story in a way it hasn't been told before, said August. That meant expanding the 24-minute cartoon to an 85-minute musical, with book and lyrics by Mason and a score by Mel Marvin, along with additional music by Albert Hague and Geisel, whose iconic tunes "Welcome Christmas" and "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" from the TV special are also featured in the show.

It also meant "taking some liberties," said August, such as framing the show with narration from Max, the older version of the dog the Grinch memorably enlists as a reindeer.

"He's our Virgil through this journey," jokes August, adding the journey holds a certain cross-generational appeal.

"We're hitting three generations," said August, "grandparents who remember reading the book to their kids for the first time and who experience (the show) in a nostalgic way; parents who are bringing their kids and who remember when they first read the story or had it read to them; and kids who haven't read it or who have just read it and see it leap to life onstage."

Visually, the show takes its cue from the book. August said the red, white and green palette often elicits gasps from audience members.

He envisions the musical enduring for generations. After all, Russia can lay claim to "The Nutcracker," and Great Britain has "A Christmas Carol." And the U.S. is birthplace of the Grinch.

"It might be one of the best-known Christmas traditions that is purely American," he said.

Ultimately, August believes, the show will endure thanks to the combination of its "incredible heart" and "exquisite showmanship."

He promises it will wow audiences and move them emotionally.

"People will walk away saying, 'I've never seen anything like it,'" he said.

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