News Column

Green meanie: Seuss' famous fink adapted into dance by Midwest Regional Ballet

December 6, 2013

YellowBrix

Dec. 06--PITTSBURG, Kan. -- Dancers in the Midwest Regional Ballet Company may come from Neosho, Carl Junction, Carthage, Pittsburg, Kan., and other Four States cities, but next weekend they'll all be residents of Whoville.

The company will bring to life "The Grinch," an original adaptation of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," on stage at Memorial Auditorium in Pittsburg.

It's the latest in a string of movie adaptations by director Kaye Lewis, who two years ago premiered her dance version of Tim Burton's "Nightmare Before Christmas." It was so successful she added a second weekend of performances and already has had would-be ticket purchasers inquiring about next year's performance.

This fall she premiered an original, steampunk version of "Alice in Wonderland" set to the music of Queen -- also very successful, she said.

The company counts among its repertoire traditional ballet productions -- "The Nutcracker" and "Swan Lake" are among them -- but Lewis is known for pushing the envelope, and Dr. Seuss provides excellent material. She adds her own stamp to this production by including Brian Setzer Christmas music, which provides the backdrop for swing dance steps, and she throws in hip-hop for good measure.

"We do ballet, we do hip-hop, we do swing, we do a little bit of everything," she said.

This time, she is aided by senior company members in developing and teaching the choreography.

Words can't describe

Seuss wrote and illustrated "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" in 1957. In 1966, it was adapted into an enduring Christmas animated television special. In 2000, Jim Carrey starred in a live-action movie, and in 2006, it made it to Broadway as a musical stage production.

In her dance version, Lewis combines the original tale with Carrey's movie. Those attending a Midwest Regional Ballet production for the first time should note that unlike a traditional play there is no script -- the acting is done through movement rather than voice, aided by the soundtrack. But the storyline will be clear to even the youngest viewers, particularly if they've watched either the TV special or the movie before attending.

The Grinch, a cold, heartless recluse, is portrayed by Joey Williams, an eighth-grader from Neosho, in his first lead role. It's even more so physically challenging than usual, he said, because dancing in a Grinch costume does not provide range of motion, and he must use a more exaggerated style.

With the help of his dog, Max -- danced by Xavier Huffman, a fifth-grader from Pittsburg -- the greedy recluse comes up with a way to sabotage Christmas in nearby Whoville.

"The hardest part is my solo," Huffman said, "which is when the Grinch goes spying in Whoville. But it's fun. I always look forward to opening night, because I want to see how the crowd will react."

The Grinch's plan is to dress as Santa Claus and break into homes to steal holiday decorations and gifts. But he is interrupted by one of the youngest Whoville residents, Cindy Lou Who -- danced by Kailan Peters, a fifth-grader from Carl Junction.

"I watched How the Grinch Stole Christmas' six times the last two weekends to get really ready for it," Peters said. "I'm excited about my role, because I get to do five costume changes."

Despite the theft of their presents and trappings, on Christmas morning the Grinch discovers the Whos to still be singing joyfully. His heart is touched -- it grew three sizes that day! -- as he suddenly realizes the true meaning of Christmas, and he hurries to return what he took from the Whos.

Cast members

Among those citizens: Seth Harley, a teacher from Columbus, Kan., who most recently had lead roles in the company's "Cats" and "Alice," portrays Mayor Augustus Maywho. Veteran dancer/actress Susie Lundy, of Pittsburg, who most recently portrayed the Wicked Witch of the West in Pittsburg Community Theater's "Wizard of Oz," plays Martha Maywhovier.

Grace Love, of Joplin, and Ben Whaley, of Miami, Okla., both ballroom students at Judy Schneider's Dance Studio, dance the roles of Betty Lou Who and Lou Who, while Joshua Scheuerman, of Joplin, dances as Baby Grinch in his first show.

Carl Junction high-school student and aspiring artist Makayla Draeger designed the posters. Memorial Auditorium's Jason Huffman and Linden Little created the sets. Lewis and Rita Bowman, of Neosho, whose grandchildren are in the show, crafted the bold, whimsical costumes, and Mary Lou Farmer, of The Wild Side in Pittsburg, designed equally bold and whimsical hairstyles and wigs.

Running time for "The Grinch" is an hour and 10 minutes. After each performance, dancers will host a meet and greet session on stage to allow audience members to request autographs and have photos taken with their favorite characters.

Want to go?

"The Grinch" runs Dec. 13 to 15 at Memorial Auditorium, 503 N. Pine. Tickets for the Dec. 13 production at 7:30 p.m. are $12 for the main floor and $10 for the balcony.

A portion of the proceeds will go to a fund established by the Harris family in memory of their daughter, Delylah. Audience members may come dressed as their favorite Seuss character and attend a tea party at 6 p.m. before the performance. Showtime on Dec. 14 is 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 15 is 2:30 p.m. Tickets for those productions are $8 for main floor and $6 for balcony. They may be purchased by calling the box office at 620-231-7827 or online at www.memorialauditorium.org

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(c)2013 The Joplin Globe (Joplin, Mo.)

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