American Way takes you on a behind-the-scenes photo tour of Broadway’s smash hit Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical. Trust us, it’s not easy being green and grumpy.
Journeying backstage at a rehearsal of is surreal: You watch the green-furred Grinch saunter into place, see little Whos scurrying to and fro, observe Old Max peer excitedly from the wings as he waits to trot back onstage, and even catch sight of a citizen of Whoville reading the local paper. But it also reveals just how challenging it is in terms of streamlining the show and adapting to changing conditions to take the Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The MusicalGrinch
from Broadway out on tour -- especially when you consider how many people are involved.
Behind the scenes at the Hippodrome Theatre in Baltimore (as of press time, the show is playing at the Citi Wang Theater in Boston), there is a sense of controlled chaos emanating from the wings as preparation for the final dress rehearsal takes place. Stagehands are readying props, the orchestra is warming up, director Matt August and the sound and lighting people are taking notes and making adjustments, and the performers are getting into makeup and costumes -- the adults upstairs, the children downstairs. By now, though, the production is a well-oiled machine of chaos.
Lead actor Stefan Karl gets all grinched out in his dressing room as makeup designer Angelina Avallone colors his face with the grace of a painter. The makeup for each of the 32 cast members is tailored specifically to each person and show. “[It] needs to work for the actor -- with their facial expressions, with their proportions -- and for the size of the house [we’re playing to],” Avallone says. “This will change in Boston.” The two-city tour totals 92 shows, and the cast will perform a grueling one to four shows per day.
“I think the Grinch is a fantastic character created for all of us, especially these days,” Karl declares. “We all know this feeling of the craziness around Christmas that we all love to hate -- the noise, the advertisements, everything. But at the end of the day, it’s all about this moment, this Christmas day. People’s hearts grow bigger that day. We’re all grinches, you know.”
While Andrew Keenan-Bolger (a.k.a. Young Max) is slipping into his costume (his dog-shaped under armor requires several components), Christina Day (a.k.a. Phyllis Who) pops by to show off her pink-streaked “rocker chick” hair. For the actors, this is just one of many ways that they bond and share in the fun of a national tour that is not without challenges -- most notable of which include intense hours and lack of free time. Day and Keenan- Bolger are looking forward to the show’s opening so they can finally play to a live audience and so that they can at last explore Baltimore, which they have seen nothing of in their first week here. The same thing will undoubtedly transpire in Boston.
Taking the show on the road also means having to simplify production and make efficient use of each and every person on staff. Take musical supervisor/conductor Joshua Rosenblum, for example, a veteran of Broadway. His 14-piece orchestra has been cut down to 10 for the road, so he is now simultaneously conducting and playing the keyboard. But this is just par for the course, given the requirements for working on a professional theater tour of this caliber: discipline; experience; patience; and the ability to stay calm, cool, and collected under fire.
During the final dress rehearsal, one of the Whos gets stuck trying to come out of a rotating box onstage, and later, the show comes to a grinding halt when a radio failure between crew members results in a missed cue for a backdrop to slide on. But everyone remains in good spirits. It’s only the rehearsal, not the real deal. Yet.
“When one tiny thing goes wrong, it can throw a major kink in the works. Usually you adapt and change and make it continue, and the audience doesn’t necessarily know that it’s any different than the last show,” observes stage manager Daniel S. Rosokoff.
Judging from the standing ovation on opening night following a fluid, near-flawless performance -- hey, it looked that way to us -- the confetti-covered audience liked the show just fine.