One Sad Grinch

After 41 years as a beloved children's book and cartoon character, the Grinch, everyone's favorite green-skinned holiday miser, finds himself perched on the edge of crossover superstardom. A film starring Jim Carrey is in the works, and a new musical adaptation of his story is playing to sold-out crowds at San Diego's Old Globe Theatre.

With the Grinch's fantabulous, splendiferous success, it's only natural that we catch up with the person who knows the heart of the character better than anyone: the Grinch himself. We were granted a brief audience with the notoriously reclusive, intensely private Grinch shortly after the musical opened. We met in a luxury suite in a San Diego hotel in near-freezing temperatures; the Grinch doesn't like climates above 40 degrees.

We expected a jovial and full-of-good-cheer Grinch. We encountered instead a medicated, wheelchair-confined 94-year-old creature who is painfully honest-and more than a little pained by his most recent incarnation.

OC Weekly: Do you think the new musical adaptation of your story accurately sums up the Grinch behind the myth?

Grinch: [Grinch drums his fingertips on the table, makes a grotesque grimace, and releases a deep, plaintive sigh]

Mr. Grinch, did you hear the question?

We Grinches have a saying: if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it-unless you're a loathsome, green-skinned hairy beast with termites in your smile or garlic in your soul. Or a theater critic.

That's surprising. I found this to be a well-put-together musical that seemed to delight the adults and children in the audience. It's cartoony and colorful, light-hearted and free-spirited. John Lee Beatty's set is an eye-popping blend of colors and scenery that recalls both Dr. Seuss' fantastic original drawing and the animation style of the Chuck Jones-directed cartoon. The score is uncomplicated and bouncy, the costumes exceptional, and the . . .

What's that about the costumes? Exceptional? Fiddledebrum! They make me look like I was shit out of the Incredible Hulk's ass after he swallowed the money shot of an evil coupling between Ed Grimley and a yeti.

You look a bit ungroomed, but you have to be pleased with the way Guy Paul portrayed you. He doesn't have the menace or creepiness of Boris Karloff-who supplied your voice in the cartoon -but he's powerful with the tongue-in-cheek irony, as if Jack Benny or Sid Caesar were playing the Grinch in a Christmas pageant in comic heaven.

Yeah, yeah, a glitzy tour de force.

So what? It's obvious by the adulation bestowed upon this show that the Grinch is conquering the musical-theater universe just as he did the worlds of children's literature and cartoons.

[Grinch drums his fingertips on the table, makes a grotesque grimace, and releases a deep, plaintive sigh]

Why the deep, plaintive sigh, Mr. Grinch?

Oh, I miss the good Doctor, that's all.

That's understandable. Dr. Seuss, a longtime La Jolla resident, died in 1991. But you must have a soft spot in your heart for Mrs. Seuss. With her husband barely cold and in the grave, she'd named herself president of Dr. Seuss Inc., a corporation formed in 1993 to "maintain the quality and integrity of the Seuss trademark," as well as Dr. Seuss Enterprises, devoted to overseeing "the production of all licensed posthumous adaptations of Dr. Seuss' works."

This you think I do not know?

After years of keeping a tight rein on his creative properties, the doctor could no longer keep the floodgates closed. A deluge of Seuss-related projects has been unleashed: his characters pop up everywhere from movies and plays to Esprit clothing and Hallmark greeting cards. What was once a rather intimate bond between a masterfully creative artist and his readers has turned into mass-marketed and mass-merchandised product. Who would dare criticize that?

Surely not I.

Then what is it about this musical that bothers you? Could it be the score?

Made me snore-but no.

The lyrics or lights?

Both gave me frights-but no.

Was it frumpy or cheesy, lumpy or sleazy?

Well . . .

Oh, please do tell, Mr. Grinch, what made you so uneasy?

They made me a pussy.

Come again?

A pussy. They neutered me! They took the grin-the sadistic pleasure-out of the Grinch. And I'll tell you, I'm one pissed-off 94-year-old Grinch about it!

Please continue.

Well, since someone somewhere decided they couldn't use my signature tune, "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch," they give me this show-stopping number in the middle of the show, "One of a Kind," in which the faux Grinch rattles off those many nasty things that make him a Grinch-the last of his line, the only one of his kind. Yet, at the show's end, this Grinch . . . impersonator . . . decides he's tired of being lonely and bitter and chooses to embrace the Who lifestyle.

Isn't that what happens in the book and cartoon? The Grinch finds self-fulfillment by joining the greater community?

It's hinted at in the earlier works. Here it's rammed down the audience's throats as subtly as a drunken Orangupoppus at a Whickerpickerspockerpucker celebration.

Still, it sounds like a positive message to be sending the kids: don't be a butthead; don't isolate yourself.

Don't you recall what the Doctor said in Horton Hears a Who? A man is a man no matter how small? And here we've got the only real character onstage, the only character who has a distinct personality and voice-the Grinch-abandoning his selfhood in order to merge into a community of sound-alike, look-alike misshapen freaks all named Who.

But you had just tried to steal Christmas from the Whos!

I was an asshole! But why can't the Grinch stay the Grinch, albeit a warm and fuzzy Grinch, as opposed to wanting to become a Who? Don't you think that's going to cause all kinds of problems down the road, since the Grinch really isn't a Who at all, but a Grinch?

I get it: it's like forcing children to deny their cultural or ethnic identities in order to "fit in," rather than bringing aspects of their culture to the mix? Instead of our differences making us stronger, we're all shoehorned into thinking the same way about everything?

Exactly. Like Christmas!

How so?

The moral of this story is supposed to be that material possessions don't make Christmas, that Christmas doesn't come from a store. Yet the biggest crowd-pleaser in this show is called "Last Minute Shopping." It shows a bunch of Whos feverishly racing through the shops of Whoville, ranting about how stressed-out they are as the mountains of presents they're buying threaten to crush them. There's a line in there that makes me cringe every time I hear it: "We've got all we need/We've got to get more." I half expected to see the Whos trample one another to death while racing to get to the Thneed outlet.

It does seem to send mixed signals to impressionable youngsters.

And how.

So, returning to my first question, I guess it's safe to say that you don't think this new musical adaptation is true to the spirit of the Grinch behind the myth?

[Grinch drums his fingertips on the table, makes a grotesque grimace, and releases a deep, plaintive sigh. A solitary teardrop falls from his eye as his handlers enter the room, slip him a pill, and wheel him off to a lunch-time meeting with representatives from Fox, Wal-Mart and McDonald's concerning a planned Grinch sitcom/Grinch Barbie/Grinch burger corporate tie-in]

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! at the Old Globe Theatre, Balboa Park, San Diego, (619) 239-2255. Tues., 8 p.m.; Wed.-Thurs., 11 a.m. & 8 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m. Through Jan. 3. $11.50-$39.


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