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Saturday, Nov. 18, 2006 | I thought it was going to be hokey, I admit it. This year marks the 9th year of the Old Globe’s popular presentation of “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” and no doubt attending it has become a holiday tradition for many San Diegans. In fact, the “Grinch” has a reach even farther than San Diego, the show premiered on Broadway this fall, joining the ranks of musicals “Jersey Boys” and “The Times They Are A-Changin’” (which, sadly, has now closed) that got their starts in San Diego.

It’s not difficult to see why the “Grinch” has become a holiday classic. It can be difficult to get into the holiday spirit with 80-degree weather. However, as soon as you enter the plaza-area of the Old Globe Theatre, it’s like the pages of Dr. Seuss’ “Grinch” sprang to life. There’s a Dr. Seuss Christmas tree with lights and all sorts of Seuss-details.

Speaking of Dr. Seuss, I remember the book and even the classic TV special so fondly, how could something like the “Grinch” be staged? Directed by Globe Artistic Director Jack O’Brien, with book and lyrics by Timothy Mason and music by Mel Marvin, the show is a decadent feast for your eyes and ears and even your heart.

Cleverly, the story is narrated in flashbacks by old Max (Kevin Bailey) the Grinch’s dog (and a much beloved character). The “retired” Max narrates with such heart, Bailey does an amazing job of telling Max’ story without regret or spite but with joy and humor.

The theater-magic of the production begins right away, but it’s with the appearance of the Whos that the classic “Grinch” book comes to life. Costumes are amazingly detailed, colorful and asymmetrical; there’s no way to describe them but “Seuss-like.” Refreshingly, the ensemble actors and actresses do not function as a mere background chorus. The set of the Who village and the costumes are all red and white, just like the book.

It’s a large cast with too many to name, but Ryan Drummond captures the loyalty and hope of young Max the dog brilliantly. Sarah Sumner sparkles as gentle Mama Who, I couldn’t take my eyes off her. All of the children and teens in the young Who ensemble impress with their spot-on timing, enthusiasm and charm. Charm doesn’t begin to describe Jay Goede’s Grinch. On the edge of their seats, children and adults in the audience eagerly anticipated his first scene and applauded him like crazy.

He’s alternately flamboyant and stern – he actually slithers like the Grinch. He hangs from the sides of the stage, comes down chimneys and commandeers the sleigh full of stolen Christmas presents just like Grinch. Goede perfectly captures the bad (but not evil) and the good (but not overly sappy) of the Grinch we all know and love.

Since the children’s cast this year is divided into two casts that alternate performance nights, there are two Cindy Lou Whos. Opening night saw Mackenzie Holmes’ return to the role of Cindy Lou. Holmes’ sweet, not saccharine, performance shined. She sang clear and bright, melting hearts with her concern for the Grinch but never cloying.

Musical numbers delight, with the favorite “He’s a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” inventively sung by both old Max and young Max. The Grinch’s “One of a Kind” number had me tearing up and “Who Likes Christmas?” is still stuck in my head.

Details abound. Watch for a mouse hole, a nail where a picture once hung and notice the food in the Who refrigerator. Even the Whos shopping bags have cute spoof-names. Oh, and it snows on the audience during the final number.

Conducted beautifully by Ron Colvard (who also catches a flying ball in the middle of it all!) the music befits a Seuss musical in every way.

So, you might wonder if I thought it was hokey. No, I was totally won over. When the Grinch sits close to Cindy Lou Who on Christmas Eve, it felt like my own heart grew three sizes that day.

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