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Dr. Seuss's Grinch Musical Stars the Villain from Lazy Town

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For the past eight years, while families have been out shopping for Christmas gifts, decorating their homes with lights, and baking holiday treats, Stefan Karl has been playing the Grinch in Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical in theaters across the country. Though Karl attempts to steal Christmas from the Whos in Whoville on stage, his personal story is more about how the Grinch stole his Christmas. 

Instead of enjoying the holiday at home with his family of six, he’s been on the road traveling to seven different cities to bring this timeless story to life. His wife and kids join him the last month of touring, and they spend Christmas day together in a hotel. You’d think that Karl would feel, well, “Grinchy” about this, but the show has actually taught him valuable lessons he wouldn’t trade for any presents.

“For our family of six, Christmas is not about gifts,” Karl says. “Christmas is about the opportunity to be together, and that’s basically what the Grinch production has taught me. As long as we are together, and we have our cookies and hot chocolate and our tiny Christmas tree from CVS, that’s all we need.”

Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical makes its grand finale in Fort Lauderdale at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts from December 15 through 28. Originally conceived in the mid-1990s by Jack O’Brien for the Minneapolis’ Children’s Theatre Company and directed on Broadway in 2006 by Matt August, it's been stretched into a 90-minute intermission-free extravaganza, with Albert Hague’s classic tunes “Fah Who Doraze” and “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” supplemented by less memorable additional songs by writer Timothy Mason and composer Mel Marvin.

Karl, who is originally from Iceland, was playing the character of Robbie Rotten in the children’s TV show Lazy Town when he got the call from his agent about playing the Grinch in the show eight years ago. He says he keeps coming back, year after year, because it’s such a great show to be a part of, and the message is so relevant for our time.

“This story was written in the '50s, but it’s as if it was written for today. That’s how relevant it is. It’s about family, it’s about being together and believing in the good in each other. That’s what Cindy Lou Who believes when she sees the Grinch. She doesn’t see the threat in him, she only sees someone she feels sorry for. Which is so different from what CNN and Fox News and all of the media is trying to teach us. They are trying to teach us to be afraid of something. Don’t go outside, don’t travel, don’t talk to people who look like this or that…don’t talk to green hairy people because they will steal your Christmas. And at the end of the day, we create distance between people. And I think Dr. Seuss creates the ultimate story that does the opposite. It teaches us that we can all live together in unity, whether you are a Who or a monster. It’s beautiful.”

Karl’s connection to the Grinch goes a lot further back than just signing up with the show years ago. His father read him the book in Icelandic when he was a kid, and he remembers forming a specific picture of who the Grinch was in his mind. That initial impression of the character is what Karl brings on stage every night. His favorite part of the show is when he steps out of the cave as the Grinch for the first time.
“I wanted to create the Grinch that I saw when my dad was reading the story to me. So the exciting moment for me is to see people’s reactions to that, and see if it’s something they expected,” Karl said. “It looks like we have a pretty similar picture in our heads of who the Grinch is.”

Not only is Karl recreating his own image of the character in the show, but he and the rest of the cast are portraying the original concepts created by Dr. Seuss in the storybook. He affirms that this show is nothing like the Hollywood version Jim Carrey played in the movie. The set looks like a pop-up book and only uses the four original colors from the cartoon: black, white, red, and green for the Grinch. The heart of the story really shines through.

Karl says he still sees a lot of American greed today as he observes families in the shopping malls, and now that we have recovered somewhat from the economic downturn, we are like a person who has been in solitary confinement. “We just want to get out there and buy it all,” he says. “But if we want to change, we have to be that change, and that’s what Cindy Lou Who taught the Grinch, and taught the world. ‘Grinch if you want to change be the change,' and that goes for all of us.

“At the end of the day, it’s a great hour and a half to spend with your family. I’ve done this show almost 600 times now, and I enjoy it so much that I come back year after year after year. I promise you will have a blast.”

Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical
December 15 through 28 at Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $35 to $85 plus fees. Visit browardcenter.org.

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