By Ava Aschettino
2020 has been full of ups and downs for most, so many have been looking forward to the holidays to lift their spirits. NBC took note and elevated the excitement for this year’s holiday season by announcing a live, musical version of the Christmas classic, The Grinch. Friends and families gathered with their mugs of cocoa and bags of popcorn on December 9th to watch Broadway and Glee star Matthew Morrison offer his interpretation of the infamously nasty Santa Claus impersonator, the Grinch.
Morrison stars alongside Denis O’Hare as Old Max, Booboo Stewart as Young Max, and Amelia Minto as the littlest Who, Cyndi-Lou Who.
The musical opens with a set that closely mimics the whimsical illustrations of the one and only Dr. Seuss. It is simple, yet elaborate, and it transports the reader into the holiday-favorite picture book. Simultaneously, the Whos down in WhoVille carol the famous “Fah Who Foraze” from the original animated film. They are costumed in vibrant attire, just what you would imagine from a Dr. Seuss musical.
The scene then shifts to Old Max, the Grinch’s loyal pup companion, who begins to narrate the story of exactly how the Grinch stole Christmas all those years ago.
Next is a transition into a rather irritating scene of the Whos celebrating the upcoming Christmas season. The song “Whos Like Christmas” will remain in your head for a day or so, but then it will become entirely forgettable--like the rest of the musical.
It takes nearly a half an hour of “fluff” to introduce the Grinch. Before meeting the avocado-green Christmas icon, the audience must endure the worst song of the musical, “This Time of Year.” O’Hare narrates Max’s life from a mere puppy into the Young Max. Not only is the song unnecessary, but it is paired with young children crawling around on the floor in dog onesie costumes. The scene then shifts to the Joker—I mean Matthew Morrison—as the Grinch, sneering at the town below from his mountain-top cave before singing an unmemorable rendition of “I Hate Christmas.”
I’m fairly certain that Matthew Morrison would appreciate my previous comparison to the Joker, the famous Batman villain. Morrison told Entertainment Weekly that “[he] took a lot from Joaquin Phoenix's performance in Joker, just going down those steps, like loose… and just carefree and raw. ... [he] really felt like that was how the Grinch would dance.”
The real question is: was his unique approach to the character effective? Yes and no. It was clear that Morrison was emulating the Joker, but there were also elements of the Evil Queen from Snow White that crept into his performance. At some points, the Grinch was an entertainingly cynical character, while at other points it was as if he was going to approach a magic mirror on the wall. I will acknowledge that Morrison’s performance was a bold interpretation that, overall, suited the character, but at times it was unclear who, exactly, he was emulating.
From this point, the story progresses the same as the classic, but there are some additions to the musical that differentiate the two. For instance, there is a scene at the shopping center in WhoVille where the Whos are buying gifts for their Christmas celebrations. The Grinch appears in an electric-green leather jacket, sunglasses, and combat boots to spy on the Whos. For what reason? The whole scene is unclear and unnecessary. At least we learn that Matthew Morrison can speak in a Texan accent.
As a whole, the musical itself was okay at best. Props to NBC for trying to spread some holiday cheer, but the production could not hold my attention. The musical was cute, the set and costumes were very Seuss-inspired, and the talent was on display. However, the unnecessary additions were to blame for the musical’s downfall. In fact, the only memorable song was the famous “Mr. Grinch” number.
Would I recommend NBC’s The Grinch? If you’d like to watch Matthew Morrison strut around the stage like the Joker and experiment with a Texan accent for two hours rather than watch the twenty-six minute animated classic, then yes, yes I would. All jokes aside, the musical was cute... just not cute enough.