Just over 63 years ago, Theodor Geisel — better known by his pen name, Dr. Seuss — wrote and illustrated a holiday-themed children’s book meant to teach kiddos that Christmas isn’t about spending outrageous sums of money to build a tree-toppling pile of presents; it’s about family, togetherness, and celebrating rebirth at the end of a long year.
So, naturally, “The Grinch” has been adapted a billion times over by every money-hungry corporation out there. It only took nine years for a TV version to hit screens, and that’s before the terrifying Jim Carrey/Ron Howard movie started dominating cable channels every December, or Illumination’s 2018 animated movie sat perched and waiting in Netflix queues for over a year, only to disappear December 4.
But fear not Seuss fans. “The Grinch Musical!” is here to offer two hours of fresh holiday entertainment thanks to NBC’s 2020 adaptation of the 2007 stage production. Starring Tony Award nominee Matthew Morrison as the toy-, feast-, and tree-stealing lead, “Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch Musical” is available to watch for free Wednesday, December 9 at 8 p.m. ET (though, yes, the attached advertisements will dispiritedly and undoubtedly pry more money from parents’ pockets).
So what can you expect in the latest version? For one, it isn’t a live musical. Unlike recent TV adaptations of “The Little Mermaid,” “Grease,” and more, “The Grinch Musical!” was pre-recorded from London’s Troubadour Theatre over two days. The decision was made to help everyone stay safe, and the cast and crew followed the industry’s pandemic production guidelines throughout. Producers, including Lee Connolly, Simon Friend, Joshua Rosenblum and James Sanna, hope to capture the live feeling nonetheless, and Morrison, who’s also a producer, promised they were only given one take — “maybe like a take and a half” — to capture what you’ll see Wednesday night.
Joining Morrison on stage are Tony Award-winner Denis O’Hare playing Old Max, the Grinch’s loving canine companion, as well as Booboo Stewart (“Descendants 3”) as Young Max. Newcomer Amelia Minto (soon to be seen in “The Lost Girls”) will play Whoville’s favorite child, Cindy-Lou Who, and the musical will feature popular songs like “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and “Welcome Christmas.” Julia Knowles directed the event, working off staging by Max Webster, while Simon Nye adapted the script and Peter Bingemann served as set designer.
Below, starting at 8 p.m. ET, follow along with the IndieWire TV team throughout the airing for an assessment of the best and worst moments as they happen. Post your own thoughts in the comment section, and let us know if the NBC production does justice to Dr. Seuss. [Editor’s note: It should go without saying, but spoilers follow.]
Steve Greene and Libby Hill also contributed to this review.
“Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch Musical!” Live Blog
[8:05 p.m.] Hello and welcome to the “Grinch Musical!” live blog! (Exclamation point included, just as Dr. Seuss intended.) Being new to the stage show, I’ll be coming at this from a classic reader’s viewpoint (and someone still trying to repress the 2000 movie version). So far, I’ve got to say it’s pretty strange to be five minutes in and no sighting of the big green cat mutant himself! – Ben Travers
[8:06] Solid opening number. Love the colors and full use of a big stage. The music isn’t super catchy yet, but Denis O’Hare’s narration as Old Max is… bizarrely charming. Even if he barked the whole time, I think I’d be down with it. – BT
[8:08] I only want the best for Denis O’Hare, now and always. – Steve Greene
[8:11] Perhaps they should’ve reworked the line about “hugging without thinking” for this staging. – BT
[8:12] If one live-blog isn’t enough for you, Matthew Morrison is also live-tweeting, and you can see a timelapse of the three-and-a-half hours it took for him getting into the Grinch makeup here. – Ann Donahue
[8:13] Not sure if The Grinch entering at exactly the 13th minute was planned, but I like it nonetheless. – BT
[8:18] COVID-safe rehearsals as dogs is… something else. – AD
— NBC Entertainment (@nbc) December 10, 2020
[8:23] Incorporating the Seussian artwork into some of the sets is a nice, if straightforward, touch. The Grinch’s lair looks wild and menacing, plus the familiarity of those green scribbles helps tie the production back to its roots. (No pun intended.) – BT
[8:40] Not being live has its drawbacks, and they’re stacking up early here. Given the many, many cuts, lack of audience, and snowglobe isolation of the production so far, that “anything can happen” energy is certainly lacking. I’d say the edits are helping the pace, but the commercials really undercut any momentum. (There have been five breaks in under 40 minutes?) – BT
[8:41] An extremely good point: – Libby Hill
The grinch is a 30 min story. Why do people keep trying to make it longer?!? #GrinchMusical
— Melissa (@MelissaYoussi) December 10, 2020
[8:49] I get that the point of the song is in it’s title — “It’s the Thought That Counts” — but that number steers far too close to endorsing the opposite, aka the grandpa’s point of view, aka what Dr. Seuss was working against when he first published the book. The Who grandparents saying they’ll find a way to afford that ultra expensive gift… the decadent celebration of shopping in general… putting pressure on picking out gifts over planning a special get-together — I mean, again, there’s a good way to word that for this year specifically, when you can’t go visiting family willy nilly and gifts carry a little more meaning, but as is, “The Grinch Musical!” just feels like it’s trying to expand a short story. – BT
[8:56] OK, the black-and-white antler being tied on Young Max’s head took me right back to childhood. Those shadow lines, the single antler, that simple red ribbon — they channel Dr. Seuss more than the dump-truck of green makeup caked onto Matthew Morrison. – BT
[8:59] Signal boosting the cute dog: – AD
— NBC Entertainment (@nbc) December 10, 2020
[9:03] Halfway through, I’m not sold on Morrison’s Grinch. It’s not bad by any means, but the fourth-wall breaking feels forced and poorly executed. (The framing betrayed that last gag — twice! — when the Grinch kept coming back on stage to interrupt Old Max.) His energy is high but short of any manic madness. His costume is so disjointed its parts are showing. Honestly, when it’s all said and done, both Maxes feel like they’ll be more memorable.
[9:09] – LH
— it me (@amandaexplains) December 10, 2020
[9:14] When it comes to the Whos, I think less is more. They’re really supposed to be nameless reader/viewer proxies, so building them out is an act of futility. Great colors, though. – BT
[9:15] Anything else would’ve been a crime against entertainment. – SG
Denis O’Hare being the one to sing “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch” just saved this entire thing for me #GrinchMusical
— Margaret Hall 🕯 (@stardustschild) December 10, 2020
[9:16] Can dogs do jazz hands? Can humans wearing mittens do jazz hands? Two of them tried, anyway.
[9:21] Maybe the Grinch just isn’t mean enough? – BT
[9:22] I mean, he lied to some locals. He pretended to be Santa Claus. He stole some food. In 2020, none of those would even rank. – BT
[9:23] They should’ve hired a few “Succession” writers to touch this up. – BT
[9:30] – LH
— Derek Draws Poorly (@Derek_Draws) December 10, 2020
[9:31] Wow, maybe 15 minutes later, there’s a “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” reprisal! The more O’Hare, the better, I guess. – BT
[9:42] I’m having such a visceral reaction to the Seussian set design that I can’t tell if it’s really, really well implemented or if I just really, really want to read the book instead. (I do love the depth in the shot from atop Mount Crumpit — the trees, the homes, the smoke. Beautiful.) – BT
[9:46] Uh, watching the Grinch’s heart grow three sizes has never been more disturbing — and I’m still actively repressing the Jim Carrey version. Oof. – BT
[9:56] Director Julia Knowles sure left no angle un-shot. For those watching without the distraction of a second (or third) screen, the sheer number of cuts, zooms, pans, and movement in general is overwhelming. It really feels like they were going for a zany, over-the-top vibe to match the Seussian weirdness driving this story, and while the set design and costumes got there, the performances, songs, and blocking didn’t quite make it.
Also, having seen this and only this version, I’m extremely unconvinced “The Grinch” should be a musical. Movie? Maybe, but even that’s a stretch. Go read a book, people. – BT
“Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch Musical!” will air an encore presentation Monday, December 21 at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.