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Review: Rock ‘n’ roll-trained actor brings Old Globe’s ‘Grinch’ roaring back to life

John Treacy Egan, Andrew Polec and Tommy Martinez in "Dr. Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas!"
John Treacy Egan as Old Max, Andrew Polec as the Grinch and Tommy Martinez as Young Max in The Old Globe’s “Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas!”
(Rich Soublet II)

Andrew Polec’s vivacious performance in title role is is funny, physical and filled with falsetto notes

For many San Diegans, seeing the Old Globe’s “Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” musical is an enduring holiday tradition.

Yet although the story never changes, regular “Grinch"-goers know that every year, director James Vásquez hires a new cast and makes a few tweaks to his staging to keep the show fresh.

I’ve seen the show nearly 20 of its 24 years and one of the best changes to come along in a decade is this year’s casting of Andrew Polec in the title role. His huge eyes, rubbery physicality, childlike sense of humor, wicked smile, boundless energy and robust vocal performance make his grumpy Grinch feel like a cartoon character come to life.

And not just any cartoon character. Polec, who Globe audiences first met this past summer as the star of “Hair,” grew up watching the 1966 animated version of the Dr. Seuss story, which was memorably narrated by horror film star Boris Karloff. Polec’s ebullient, spooky and multi-octave vocal performance gives a subtle nod to Karloff. But he takes the character in a new direction with squeals, howls and the surprise addition of the falsetto high notes he honed during his four years as the star of the U.K. and U.S. production of the rock ‘n’ roll musical “Bat Out of Hell.”

Polec also tosses in unexpected pirouettes, yoga stretches and booty shakes that make him the goofiest Grinch I can remember. At 32, he’s the youngest actor to ever play the role at the Globe, so he connects well with children in the audience and he makes it through the famously exhausting “One of a Kind” solo number without gasping for breath. If past Grinches have given 110 percent to every performance, then Polec seems to be giving 200.

Also excellent in the show are the endearing Tommy Martinez as the young version of the Grinch’s dog, Max, and heart-tugging John Treacy Egan as Old Max, who narrates the 80-minute show. Also fun are Bets Malone and Larry Raben as the kookiest Whos in Whoville, Grandma and Grandpa Who, and the poised Leila Manuel, who shares the role of Cindy-Lou Who with Sophia Adajar at alternating performances. Music director Elan McMahan is back in the pit again to lead the audience through the musical’s score by Mel Marvin, which was expanded at the Globe several years back with two songs from the 1966 film, “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and “Fah Who Doraze.”

Every year, the “Grinch” musical delights and surprises children with its storybook-come-to-life scenery and costumes and snowfall in the aisles. But this year, the new Grinch in town has moms and dads in the audience surprised and laughing out loud.

‘Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas!’

When: Show times vary, but generally 10:30 a.m., 2 and 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. 7 p.m. Tuesdays -Fridays. Additional performances have been added Dec. 19-31. Runs through Dec. 31.

Where: Old Globe Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park, San Diego.

Tickets: $69 and up

Phone: (619) 234-5623

Online: theoldglobe.org

COVID protocol: Children under 3 will not be admitted due to indoor mask requirement for all. Full vaccine required for ages 12 and up or negative COVID-19 PCR test within 72 hours of performance. Unvaccinated children 3 to 12 are recommended to receive a COVID-19 PCR test before the show.


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