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Grinch brings out actor’s best in Seuss-based musical

Best of Broadway’s production of “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical” lands at INB starting Wednesday.
Best of Broadway’s production of “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical” lands at INB starting Wednesday.

For the seventh year, Stefan Karl is donning the green face paint and the fuzzy outfit, the shoes that are too tight, the head that isn’t screwed on right, and portraying Dr. Seuss’ famous Grinch for families around the country.

The actor, also known as Robbie Rotten in the long-running kids show “Lazy Town,” is the star of “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical,” a Broadway adaptation of the beloved children’s book. He’s been drawn back into the Grinch costume year after year because of how relevant and wonderful the story is, he said in a recent telephone interview from his home in Los Angeles.

“These are messages that never get old,” Karl said. “It’s a good reminder of what Christmas is all about.”

Karl, who hails from Iceland, said the tour has become like family. More than 50 percent of the cast and crew return each year.

“It’s one of these productions that has become a little Grinch family that travels together for three months a year,” he said.

Karl, a father of four, jokes that “The Grinch steals my Christmas every year. With my permission.”

He called the show the ultimate Christmas entertainment.

“It’s very rare that you get to do a story, a musical like this where grandma and grandpa and mama and papa and the kids can all come and it’s all part of all their childhoods,” he said.

The musical, which premiered at the Children’s Theatre Company of Minneapolis in 1994, was adapted with the cooperation of Dr. Seuss’ estate and his widow, Audrey Geisel. It ran during holiday season on Broadway in 2006 and mounted its first U.S. tour in 2008. It hews close to the book and the classic Chuck Jones cartoon, but it is a little different. Out of necessity. The book is pretty short, and the cartoon clocked in at 26 minutes. One can’t really stage a Broadway-style musical in 26 minutes. New songs have been added – all written in Seussian style, Karl said – in addition to the classics “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and “Welcome, Christmas.” The story is narrated by Max the dog, who comes back to Whoville for one last time – his puppy years long behind him – and reminisces about that time the Grinch tried to steal Christmas from the Whos.

It’s a show that is designed for families, Karl said – children as young as 3 and all the way up. In fact, Karl said, parents need not be afraid of bringing their young children to the theater.

“We want them young like that. We want them to root for the Grinch and scream at him and laugh and have fun, and need to go to the restroom during the show,” he said, laughing. “It’s a family show. And we really want to emphasize that.”

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