Creating the look of Whoville and the Grinch
“Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical” brings the classic Seuss story we all know to the theatrical stage: friendly Whos in Whoville, the grumpy Grinch set on destroying Christmas, and the little girl who calls him out. The national tour is coming to the Durham Performing Arts Center next week, Dec. 3-8.
Overseeing all the Seussical Whoville costumes, hair and makeup is Sarah Smith, head of wardrobe and costume coordinator for the tour. There’s a hair and makeup person and a dresser, and Smith checks out the look of it all. She’s a woman who knows how it should look. Smith worked on the original Broadway production of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” as costume designer Bob Morgan’s assistant.
For the tour, they were very set on maintaining both the Broadway production and the Dr. Seuss edition so they would bring the same visual quality, Smith said. The Grinch’s makeup is probably the most complicated, she said. This year they redesigned the wigs to make them “closer to Seussian intent,” she said, which means more whimsical and less human. The wigs are normal wigs but with elaborate styles maintained with wire and hairspray. They’re very sculptural, Smith said. And pinker.
Smith tours with the show, and there are fixes that need to be taken care of every night, usually minor things like something stuck or broken. The show is short at 90 minutes, but very physical, she said.
“We come in two hours before the show and make everything perfect before that night’s show,” she said. “We’re always putting more fur on the Grinch.” The Grinch costume is a mesh bodysuit with fur sewn on, hair ventilated – which means coming through it, like ventilation – all over a pod that makes the Grinch shape. Plus green furry shoes, hands and hair on top.
During the show, costume changes backstage involve a lot of adding and taking off of things, like an apron or hat, Smith said. One actress plays a little boy and then a woman, so that’s more involved. The sound person checks everyone’s microphones. One of the Whos in Whoville starts the show as a Who, changes into a Grinch body double, then back into a Who. Even with activity, backstage is quiet. Scenery is moving. Conversations happen when needed but they’re quiet because actors still have their microphones on while they’re singing. It’s very dark, too. Microphones are in the wigs and come down at the top of the actors’ foreheads. The Grinch and Max the dog have extra mics.
“How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” is a touching story, Smith said, and her parents read the book to her as a kid. Everyone knows the song when it comes on the radio, she said.
Smith said what’s really lovely about working on a show like “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” is bringing back her own childhood memories of dressing up for a family outing at the holidays, like when they went to see “The Nutcracker” every year in London. She knew she wanted to work in theater. She went to Carnegie-Mellon University and studied theater design, then moved to New York and started in a costume shop, then on to her own designs.
With the “Grinch,” Smith said it’s nice seeing the audience reactions. Kids will be scared of the Grinch at first, then laughing a few minutes later, and then in awe of the snow.
WANT TO GO?
WHAT: “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical”
WHEN: Tuesday-Dec. 8
WHERE: Durham Performing Arts Center
123 Vivian St., Durham