OK, the holidays are officially here. If you have any strength left after shopping last night and all day today, there are numerous theatrical offerings to consider.
On Wednesday night, I attended the opening of a musical version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, a touring production at the Aronoff through Sunday. I suspect most everyone knows the story (which certainly resembles A Christmas Carol, with the Grinch replacing Scrooge as the meanie who's taught the meaning of Christmas). This newish musical uses some of the songs from the beloved 1966 animated version of Dr. Seuss's classic 1957 story of the green guy with a heart "two sizes too small." Audiences, in fact, are invited to sing along on "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch." What's touring is a 90-minute-rendition that's family-friendly, outfitted with wild costumes, technicolor scenery and a gaggle of special effects that include snow inside the Aronoff and festive confetti cannons for the finale.
The tale is narrated by the senior citizen version of Max, the Grinch's hapless dog; Bob Lauder has a great baritone voice, a bemused mindset and a great tail that still wags. (He's complimented by and partnered with his eager younger self, played by Andreas Wyatt.) There's a whole raft of happy singing and dancing citizens of Whoville, of course, especially sweet Cindy Lou who wins over the Grinch's meager heart. Two kids alternate in this demanding role; I saw the adorable Jenna Iacono, but I'm sure Piper Birney is just as charming when she's singing "Santa for a Day" and wearing down the Grinch from his nasty ways.
As the Grinch, Stefan Karl gets to mug, growl, grimace and just be a general grouch (he does some farting and belching, just to add to his inappropriateness).
He's great fun to watch from his first entrance, as "ugly as a cactus," outfitted in something across between newly mown grass, tattered green feathers and seaweed, to his final scene where he's embraced by the Whos. He's so bad he's good. And his story is a fine addition to Thanksgiving weekend from Broadway in Cincinnati. Performances, including several matinees, are at the Aronoff through Sunday evening. Tickets (starting at $28): 513-621-2787 Starting tonight (and for the next several weeks), you can also choose between two different productions of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. The Cincinnati Playhouse returns its beautiful retelling of Scrooge's dark night of the soul for the 23rd consecutive year. If you're a theater fan, it's a pleasure to see Bruce Cromer, one of southwest Ohio's finest actors, in the bah-humbug role. He makes Scrooge such fun, a genuine holiday treat. With all the whiz-bang spinning scenery, ghostly presences and gorgeous Victorian costumes, well, this show is a great dose of holiday sentiment and cheer. Tickets: 513-421-3888. For a different rendition of Dickens' grouch who gets his comeuppance, the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts is offering a musical version of A Christmas Carol that's new this season. (In fact, the book and lyrics are by Cincinnati Landmark's Tim Perrino with music by Jeremy Helmes; Perrino directs the show.) West Siders love the Covedale, and I suspect more than a few folks from Cincinnati's supposedly more "refined" side will make the trek to 4990 Glenway Avenue to see this one. Tickets: 513-241-6550. If you prefer some non-holiday entertainment, the Playhouse offers The Complete History of Comedy (abridged), which begins a hysterical two hours with a skit that literally presents the "birth of comedy." (CityBeat review here.) You won't stop laughing until it's over, and I can guarantee some unexpected things along the way — there is a script, but the three performers play fast and loose through the performance, including bringing a few audience members into the merriment. Tickets: 513-421-3888. And if Thanksgiving leaves you overdosed on goodness and sick of being nice, you might want to catch one of the final performances of Bull at Know Theatre. (CityBeat review here.) It's the story of three office workers competing for two jobs — and they're not nice at all. If you're seeking some vicarious nastiness, this is the show for you. Tickets: 513-300-5669.