Peter Brosius is helping the Grinch get ready for his spotlight.
In his 27th year and last season as artistic director of the Children's Theatre Company, Brosius is staging what may be his capstone production of "Dr. Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas," the holiday staple that premiered at the Minneapolis company in 1994.
Since taking the helm of CTC in 1997, Brosius has directed multiple revivals of the show with Reed Sigmund playing the titular role. He will return as the green grouch for the sixth time when the show opens Nov. 11.
"Every time I come back to it, it's like opening a box of candies," Brosius said. "And Reed gives 190% every single day."
Before a recent rehearsal, Brosius spoke about how he makes and remakes a show that has become a tradition for families.
"It's not only about the Grinch changing but also about the community embracing the outsider," Brosius said. "Part of our work is to explore and manifest the panoply of emotions for someone who's been excluded."
Q: You've done this show so many times. Are there things you would like to change in the script or production?
A: What [playwright] Tim Mason and [composer] Mel Marvin created is smart, very rich. As a director, there's one moment where I want to have the entire audience sing along and become Whos. We tried that last year and found that it took us out of Whoville.
Q: Last year, the Grinch did the Griddy, the dance popularized by Minnesota Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson after touchdowns. Will we see the Griddy again?
A: You'll have to come and see. We keep a pretty tight rein on keeping Whoville its own unique world with an incredible reverence for this holiday. It's not a contemporary world. We have one shameless moment when our Grinch is celebrating. It doesn't interfere with the rigor of Whoville. But he's the champion of the world, and what better way to celebrate than that?
Q: How do you get into the Grinch's grouchy state of mind?
A: We don't approach it that way. We start by asking what it's like to not be welcomed somewhere. In all the film adaptations, the Grinch has a back story. They tell you that he was in an orphanage blah, blah, blah. Our production always leaves that wide open for the audience to imagine. We always start with what it's like to be around people who're uncomfortable with you and may not like you. What happens in that situation? You harden your heart. And if you're isolated watching people have joy and celebrate with each other, it heightens your own aloneness, and that can turn into frustration, rage, disgust.
Q: Is that anger and rejection part of that what makes "Grinch" evergreen?
A: "Grinch" came out of a beautiful, profound place with Ted Geisel losing faith in the true meaning of the holiday. Unfortunately, the show is always timely. And we could always use a reminder of its messages about opening our hearts to those who're different from us and listening to kids, who're often the agents of change challenging pre-existing biases.
Q: Are there things that you wish you could do onstage that have been done in other media?
A: In the cartoon, there's a wildly comic ride of disasters for Young Max as he pulls the sleigh up Mount Crumpit. He goes up through snow and the flakes get in his face. It's just such brilliant comedy. I've tried for years to figure that out. But our music is very dramatic and strong whereas in the cartoon it's light and whimsical. I'm finding all kinds of things to make it comic but in our version we're fighting both the text and music.
Q: What about parts you thought of cutting in the past but doing it only in this last "Grinch"?
A: There's a line when the Grinch finally goes to the village and asks, what time of year is it? For the last several years, we've rehearsed it where everyone turns to the audience and says, what? We usually rehearse it until we're blue in the face and then test it out in previews. Well, yesterday, Autumn Ness [who has been in many productions of "Grinch" and plays Mama Who] said, 'Are we going to keep this until first preview and cut it or are we going to cut it now?' I could not stop laughing. I heeded her sage advice, ripped the Band-Aid off and cut our losses. We just saved ourselves a week of rehearsal.
Q: Were there any other edits that sharpened the show?
A: There's a section in the piece where I went, Oh, my, God. We had sweeping choreography and staging but not a single comic idea. And so we went back into the room and created a whole set of comic ideas to put it in there. We ran it the next day. None of them worked. Then we came up with another set, and nothing. Now we have something that we think works. It's tighter, cleaner and also makes the Grinch smarter. Hopefully, it will get some laughs.
Q: So, is this your farewell "Grinch"?
A: I don't think of it like that. I'm trying to make the best work I can.
'Dr. Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas'
Who: Book and Lyrics by Timothy Mason. Music by Mel Marvin. Directed by Peter C. Brosius.
Where: Children's Theatre, 2400 3rd Av. S., Mpls.
When: 7 p.m. Tue.-Sat., 2 & 5 p.m. Sun. Ends Jan. 7.
Tickets: $15-$97. 612-874-0400 or childrenstheatre.org.