Hol­i­day gift:

Play­ing ti­tle char­ac­ter in “Grinch” ful­fills a child­hood dream for ac­tor Philip Huff­man

Albany Times Union - Sunday - - UNWIND - By Jim Sha­hen Jr. ▶

Ac­tor says play­ing lead char­ac­ter in “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christ­mas! The Mu­si­cal” al­lows him to ful­fill a child­hood dream.

“I’m the youngest of four and I grew up at the height of Dr. Seuss’ fame. I re­mem­ber en­vi­ously want­ing to be a part of Seuss world,” ac­tor Philip Huff­man said. “Step­ping into it now is a lit­tle sur­real.”

Huff­man isn’t just step­ping into the world of Dr. Seuss. He’s don­ning the too-tight shoes of the Grinch in the tour­ing pro­duc­tion of “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christ­mas! The Mu­si­cal” play­ing at Proc­tors from Wed­nes­day through Dec. 9.

In a phone con­ver­sa­tion from a lo­ca­tion def­i­nitely north of Who-ville but not atop Mount Crumpit, Huff­man dis­cussed por­tray­ing one of the mosti­conic pop cul­ture fig­ures of the past 60 years and how to present a story that’s been mined for two mo­tion pic­tures and the 1966 TV spe­cial that’s part of the hol­i­day canon.

“There’s so many ver­sions that you never know what peo­ple will ex­pect,” he said. “Step­ping into the role, you know peo­ple iden­tify and come in with a pre­con­ceived no­tion of what to ex­pect.

“As long as you stick to the pure­ness (of the char­ac­ter): he’s iso­lated, but doesn’t ad­mit he wants to be a part of a fam­ily and com­mu­nity,” Huff­man con­tin­ued. “We’ve all felt lonely, en­vi­ous, we’ve all had those feel­ings. The fun­da­men­tals are in us.”

This ren­di­tion of “Grinch” takes a dif­fer­ent nar­ra­tive ap­proach than the other adap­ta­tions. It’s nar­rated by Max, the Grinch’s faith­ful ca­nine com­pan­ion, as a se­nior dog. He’s look­ing back on his fa­vorite mem­ory, the day his owner’s small heart grew three sizes upon the re­al­iza­tion that Christ­mas is about love and friend­ship, not pack­ages, boxes or bags.

It’s also the story of Cindy-lou Who, the young girl who reaches out and changes the Grinch’s life per­spec­tive. Cindy-lou is the one who asks the in-dis­guise Grinch, “Santy Claus, why, why are you tak­ing our Christ­mas tree? WHY?”

“For me, my fa­vorite scene is when Cindy-lou Who chal­lenges Grinch,” Huff­man re­marked. “He’s think­ing he’s so ge­nius, think­ing that he out­wit­ted a 2-year-old. But she re­ally traps this cu­rios­ity in part of him­self.

“It’s a chal­leng­ing part to get across with the au­di­ence (as an ac­tor),” he added. “There’s more depth to it (the scene). You never ex­pect there to be as much depth as there is. With­out know­ing it, you’ve learned a les­son.”

The new an­i­mated fea­ture film also uses that scene as a teach­able mo­ment. Cur­rently play­ing in cin­e­mas, “The Grinch” has been a con­sis­tent box of­fice draw since open­ing Nov. 9. While it seems like hav­ing it run­ning in the­aters con­cur­rently with this pro­duc­tion would feel like a com­pe­ti­tion for a sim­i­lar au­di­ence, Huff­man thinks the film has helped give the play a boost.

“Ac­tu­ally, what I find this year is that the movie has re­vi­tal­ized in­ter­est in the fran­chise,” Huff­man said. “I think peo­ple tend, es­pe­cially with mul­ti­ple ver­sions, peo­ple put their own fin­ger­print on what’s im­por­tant: It’s a multi­gen­er­a­tional story, we all have own vi­sions of what the Grinch is.

“No mat­ter what that vi­sion is, peo­ple will go back and read the source ma­te­rial,” he noted. “You can’t es­cape the mes­sage of to­geth­er­ness, ac­cep­tance of the un­known, just be­cause peo­ple are dif­fer­ent doesn’t mean you should fear them.”

While nail­ing the mes­sage of “Grinch” is es­sen­tial, get­ting the look of the main char­ac­ter and his sur­round­ings are also a must. Huff­man’s Grinch cos­tume is a heavy, three-layer suit. As a “very phys­i­cal ac­tor who en­joy(s) phys­i­cal com­edy,” he’s taken steps to en­sure that the suit doesn’t be­come a bur­den.

“I tend to sweat a lot, so I have to be on top of hy­dra­tion,” he said. “I drink three liters of wa­ter per show. And they keep it cool back­stage so I don’t have heat stroke.”

For the sets, the de­sign­ers re­lied upon the book’s orig­i­nal art­work. The re­sult is some­thing that sucks you into that “Seuss world” Huff­man wanted to be a part of as a child.

“I think it’s ex­tremely hon­or­ing the style of Seuss’ cre­ativ­ity,” Huff­man en­thused. “The set de­sign­ers stuck to the images within the book it­self. The only chal­leng­ing thing you’d think is Dr. Seuss only used like three dif­fer­ent col­ors in the orig­i­nal book.

“It’s an in­ter­est­ing un­der­tak­ing,” he con­tin­ued. “I’ve seen the show from the au­di­ence per­spec­tive. It’s like watch­ing the book come to life. It’s its own en­tity. Be­ing able to pass that down to au­di­ence mem­bers, hav­ing that op­por­tu­nity, is a long-awaited one.”

Jim Sha­hen Jr. is a fre­quent con­trib­u­tor to the Times Union.

“Dr. SEUSS’ How THE Grinch Stole christ­mas! THE mu­si­cal”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.