On Stage: The Grinch is ready to steal your heart

By Denny DyroffEntertainment Editor, The Times

The Grinch

It probably would be pretty hard to find anyone in the area who is unfamiliar with a certain holiday story written by Theodor Geisel just over a half-century ago.

Geisel is better known as Dr. Seuss and the protagonist of his timeless story is the Grinch.

The story of the Grinch has been told in a novel, in a 1966 animated TV film starring Boris Karloff, in a 2000 live-action feature film starring Jim Carrey, and in a 2018 computer-animated film starring Benedict Cumberbatch.

It also is told in a live Broadway show – “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical.”

The National Tour of the musical has arrived in Philadelphia and will run now through December 29 at the Merriam Theater (250 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, 215-893-1999,www.kimmelcenter.org) as part of the Kimmel Center’s “Broadway Philadelphia” series.

“How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” is a Dr. Seuss children’s story written in rhymed verse with illustrations by the author.

It follows the Grinch, a grouchy, solitary creature who attempts to put an end to Christmas by stealing Christmas-themed items from the homes of the nearby town Whoville on Christmas Eve. The story, which was published as a book by Random House in 1957, criticizes the commercialization of Christmas.

“Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical” broke box office records for two consecutive years on Broadway during its holiday engagements at the St. James and Hilton theatres in New York. Since then, more than 1.2 million theatre-goers across America have been delighted by this heart-warming holiday musical, which The New York Times praised as “100 times better than any bedside story” and the Gannett papers hailed as “A genius of a show! A total delight for both kids and adults.”

Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical” features the hit songs “You’re A Mean One Mr. Grinch” and “Welcome Christmas” (written by Albert Hague and Dr. Seuss) from the original animated series. Max the Dog narrates as the mean and scheming Grinch, whose heart is “two sizes too small,” decides to steal Christmas away from the Holiday loving Whos.

Max the Dog is played by Jared Starkey. He is a human playing the Grinch’s dog, Max. As such, Starkey wears the reindeer antlers on his head, remains loyal to the Grinch and takes the brunt of his bad moods.

“This will be the 14th year for Grinch and the tour started back in November,” said Starkey, during a phone interview last week from a tour stop in Schenectady, New York.

“This is my fist tour with the show. I had actually never seen it before. Auditions were back in September and then we did two weeks of rehearsal in October.”

Starkey may have been unfamiliar with the Broadway musical but definitely not with the green guy’s story.

“I grew up with the story – as most people do in America,” said Starkey. “I grew up on a Christmas tree farm in Connecticut, so Christmas is in my blood.”

Magnificent sets (John Lee Beatty) and costumes (Robert Morgan) inspired by Dr. Seuss’ original illustrations help transport audiences to the whimsical world of Whoville, while the Music and Book of Mel Marvin and Timothy Mason breathe new life into this timeless story of the true meaning of Christmas.

The 2018 production is directed by Matt August and choreographed by Bob Richard based on the original choreography by John DeLuca and originally created by three-time Tony Award-winning director, Jack O’Brien.

“The musical is almost identical to the cartoon,” said Starkey, who graduated Magna Cum Laude with his B.A. in Musical Theatre at Western Connecticut State University.

“We went to the children’s book when we were starting rehearsals. We went page by page and the story is almost exactly as the book.”

The story of the Grinch has stayed a family favorite whether as a book, a cartoon, a movie or a musical. Its staying power is obvious ever year when the holiday season arrives.

“One of the reasons it’s so popular is that the Grinch is a relatable character,” said Starkey. “The show also has the theme of sharing and the true Christmas meaning that we search for.”

For Starkey, who was atop-flight soccer player in high school and college, every day now is a dog day.

“I play young Max,” said Starkey. “He’s the Grinch’s dog and he helps him steal Christmas – reluctantly. The story is narrated by an older version of Max. I grew up with dogs so it’s easy for me to relate to Max.

“This is such a wonderful holiday show. And, it’s got great demographics. Parents come in with their kids and then end up laughing louder than their kids do.”

Video link for “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical” — https://youtu.be/stiiMaVn8FA.

The show at the Merriam Theater is running now through December 29. Ticket prices range from $45-$125.

Philly Gumbo

New Orleans may have File Gumbo but only the Delaware Valley has Philly Gumbo. They are very different, but both are very tasty. And, they both feature a variety of complementary ingredients.

File Gumbo is a traditional New Orleans dish. File (pronounced fee-lay) powder is a seasoning made from the ground, dried leaves of the sassafras tree. It’s an integral part of Creole cooking and is used to thicken and flavor Gumbos and other Creole dishes.

Philly Gumbo has a link to New Orleans but it’s all about music rather than food.

Philly Gumbo has been the foremost exponent of the Crescent City’s music in the Philadelphia area and perhaps the only band in the country to effectively mix New Orleans music, rhythm-and-blues, reggae, blues and African music.

On December 22, Philly Gumbo will be rocking the house at Jamey’s House of Music (32 South Lansdowne Avenue, Lansdowne, 215-477-9985, www.jameyshouseofmusic.com).

The band has been the standard-bearer for New Orleans music on the Philadelphia music scene for more than a quarter century. The current line-up features Randall Grass (keyboards), Pete Eshelman (guitar), Tim Hayes (drums), Bert Harris (bass), Richard Orr (saxophone) and India Rex (vocals).

Four of the six members of Philly Gumbo live in Germantown or Mt. Airy. Of the four original members, Hayes has played with such greats as Wilson Pickett, Little Milton and Johnny Shines; Eshelman, who also leads Zydeco A-Go-Go, was the only American member of Philadelphia reggae band Roots Vibration; Harris was a member of African music ensemble He Kuumba and leads Jazz Planet; and Grass played with the Nigerian pop group Bongoes & The Groovies. Also, Orr has played with Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes.

With a mixed racial line-up and sometimes political lyrics, Philly Gumbo has played most every venue in Philadelphia, opened for such legends as Buddy Guy & Jr. Wells, Dr. John, The Mighty Diamonds, Rick Danko & Levon Helm of The Band, Mutabaruka and others, and often had such noted musicians as Todd Rundgren, David Lindley, Fats Domino guitarist Teddy Royal, avant-jazz sax player Byard Lancaster and others sit in with them.

“We’ve been together for 38 years,” said Grass, during a phone interview Monday afternoon. “We’ve been playing continuously all that time and are probably one of the longest running bands anywhere — definitely the longest in Philadelphia.

“It began when Walt Taylor and I played a show in Germantown — Walt singing and me on keyboards. The first time we played, we knew we had something when we looked up and saw someone dancing on the table.

“We saw an ad at Third Street Jazz (record shop) from Tim Hayes, a drummer who was into reggae, blues and New Orleans music. Then, we got Pete Eshelman who was playing in a reggae band called Roots Revolution.

“After that, we picked up a bass player and began doing shows. It’s always been a blend of reggae, R&B, New Orleans music and blues. That was the concept of the band. In 1980, we started playing regularly.

“We were asked to play a benefit at a club called Bacchanal in Philly. After that, they offered us a regular gig there. From 1981 on, we played there every Saturday for about 10 years. Over the years, we’ve played just about every place there was to play in Philadelphia.”

Everyone in the lineup has been around for a while.

“Richard has been with us for the last few years,” said Grass. “He used to sit in with us in the 80s – back when he was in a band called Siembra. India has been with us since 2011 – right around our 30th anniversary. She’s a younger generation singer with a feel for classic soul.

Not surprisingly, the band’s schedule of live shows has been cut back because of other commitments.

“These days, we’re very selective about our gigs,” said Grass. “We average about one show a month. We play more shows at festivals and special events like the Bucks County bBlues and R&B Picnic and Bethlehem’s Musikfest.

“When we first started playing, people around here didn’t know New Orleans music. If you said New Orleans music, they thought you were talking about Dixieland. They might have been aware of Dr. John and Fats Domino, but they thought of them as rock acts.

“Thanks to the New Orleans Jazz Festival and touring acts from New Orleans, people now know the music. We’ve stayed with our mix of sounds — but we keep adding songs. Of course, we also play the familiar traditional songs such as ‘Iko Iko,’ ‘Hey Pocky Way’ and ‘Go To The Mardi Gras.’”

Ironically, despite a 38-year history, Philly Gumbo has recorded just one album — “Come and Get It” in 2011.

“We never had the ambition to record an album,” said Grass. “We’ve always looked at ourselves as primarily a live band. We made the album a few years ago so that our fans would have something to take home and listen to. Our main focus is always to be the best groove band in Philly.

Video link for Philly Gumbo — https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=jWQwVOSHdM0.

The show at Jamey’s House of Music will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15.

Another show at Jamey’s this weekend will feature Kicking Down Doors on December 21.

Too Many Zooz

Too Many Zooz, a New York City-based band featuring Leo Pellegrino (baritone saxophone), Matt “Doe” Muirhead (trumpet) and David “King of Sludge” Parks (percussion), heads back to Philly on December 21 for a show at The Foundry at Fillmore Philadelphia (1100 Canal Street, Philadelphia, 215-309-0150, www.thefillmorephilly.com).
Too Many Zooz got its start playing on the subway platforms in Manhattan. The only way for the trio to go was “up” – up into the daylight, on to the stages of clubs and eventually playing backup for Beyoncé for her televised CMA Awards performance in November 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.

“We’ve been playing a lot – travelling a lot,” said Pellegrino, during a phone interview last week from his home in the East Falls section of Philadelphia.

“We were in Europe a lot this year. We played a lot of shows over there. We just keep grinding and working – and keep on touring.”

Pellegrino and Muirhead met when they were students at the Manhattan School of Music. Pellegrino and Parks had played together in Drumadics, a local busking band.

In mid-2013, they formed a trio and began busking together at various stations in the New York City Subway. They gained fame when a video of one of their subway performances, recorded by a passer-by at the Union Square station, went viral on YouTube in March 2014.

The trio has released four EPs since 2014, dropped its first full-length “Subway Gawdz” in 2016, and has racked up millions of views of its live videos on YouTube. Beyoncé’s team was impressed with the videos and hired the band to perform on the songs “Daddy Issues” and “Formation” on her album “Lemonade,” which was nominated for the Grammy for Album of the Year.

Right now, TMZ is riding high having signed a deal with Ministry of Sound. Too Many Zooz’ single “Warriors” racked up major play on Radio One followed by high-profile remixes from the likes of Armand Van Helden and KDA.

Then, U.K. sensation Jess Glynne penned lyrics and added vocals to morph the song into “So Real (Warriors),” which has been generating massive buzz while climbing the European charts.

The band recently recorded the conceptual, improvisational song and video for “Car Alarm” in which they use the alarm of a burgled car on a rooftop carpark as a metronome for the new track. The “Car Alarm” video has racked up more than 500K views in one week.

“Matt and I live in Philadelphia now – so that was a change,” said Pellegrino. “It really doesn’t matter where we live because we tour so much. Philly is close to New York – and it’s also a big city.

“I have a lot of people in Philly. I’m from Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh people migrate to Philadelphia. I went to CAPA for high school in Pittsburgh and then to college at Manhattan School of Music. That’s where I met Matt and then David and I met in the subway. Union Square was our favorite – but we never had an official permit to play there until recently.

“We released four EPs and then out debut album. We recorded the album last April at Platinum Sound Recording Studios in Manhattan. And did a few tracks at Studio Trilogy in San Francisco.”

Too Many Zooz created its style by playing in the subway for people – as many as 30,000-40,000 people over the course of a few hours.

The trio’s discography includes “F NOTE” EP (January 2014), “Fanimals” EP (September 2014), “Brasshouse Volume 1: Survival of the Flyest” EP (November 2014), “The Internet” EP (May 2015) and “Subway Gawdz” LP (June 2016).

“We have a Christmas EP – ‘Too Many Zooz Xmas Vol. 1’ — that we just released,” said Pellegrino. “We recorded it in Brooklyn back in September. Most of the tracks are traditional holiday songs. We mostly just picked songs that were public domain.

“We also have a caroling video and we used that song on the EP. It was kind of weird to do Christmas songs in September. But it was cloudy those days so that helped. And, we were cooped up in that room for a few days.”

Too Many Zooz describes its music as “brass house.” It is an amalgamation of New York City music – jazz, hip hop, funk, rock, R&B, improv and even EDM.

“Our music is a mixture of sounds,” said Pellegrino. “It is representative of New York City. But we’re not playing the subways too much lately because we’re out on tour a lot – all the time.”

“The biggest change in our playing is that we have to do more songs. When we first started playing, it was all improvisational. After a while, we learned to play songs that people wanted. Now, it’s a combination of songs and improv.

“We have a ton of new music. We’re now trying to figure out how to put it in our set. With our label in the U.K., they put out the remix of ‘Warriors’ and used singer Jess Glynne. It’s getting played on the radio a lot in the U.K. We’ll be going back there soon for more shows.”

Video link for Too Many Zooz – https://youtu.be/xV7nHX2RLjQ.

The show at The Foundry, which has Organ Freeman as the opener, will start at 9 p.m. Tickets are $17.

Tengger Cavalry

Which band is the top Mongolian nomadic folk metal band in the world?

The answer is easy – Tengger Cavalry.

Which band is the only Mongolian nomadic folk metal band in the world?

Another easy answer – Tengger Cavalry.

“Unique” is an overused and often misused word. It means “one of a kind” not just “unusual.” With that in mind, it is safe to say that Tengger Cavalry is unique.

On December 22, Tengger Cavalry’s nomadic wandering will bring it to the area for a show at the Lizard Lounge at the Chameleon Club (223 North Water Street, Lancaster, 717-299-9684,http://www.chameleonclub.net).

Tengger Cavalry — Nature Ganganbaigal (Vocals, Dombra, Production, Composition), Wulijimuren (Morin Khuur), Greg Baker (Bass), Pat Reilly (Guitar), Randy Tesser (Drums) — is a folk metal band based in New York City that combines elements of the traditional music of Mongolia with heavy metal into a kind of folk metal that billed as “nomadic folk metal.”

Tengger Cavalry was founded in March 2010 as one-man project by Ganganbaigal. The band name means “the army of the sky god” in Mongolian  and is named after the ancient Mongolian and Turkic deity Tengri.

“I started the band as a pure music project in the New York metal scene,” said Ganganbaigal, during a phone interview last week from Los Angeles.

“We did a lot of jams and then last year we did a European tour.”

Tengger Cavalry has released seven albums since 2010 — “Blood Sacrifice Shaman” (2010), “Sunesu Cavalry” (2012), “Blood Sacrifice Shaman” (2015), “Cavalry in Thousands” (2016), “Ancient Call” (2016), “Die on My Ride” (2017) and “Cian Bi” (2018).

“We like to have an album come out each year,” said Ganganbaigal. “I like to write a lot.”

As one of the most unique and innovative acts in modern music, Tengger Cavalry blends the nomadic musical traditions, instrumentation and warrior spirit of Central Asia with the aggression and power of heavy metal. The group was put together by Ganganbaigal, who sings using the ancient Mongolian tradition of Khoomei (more commonly known as throat-singing) and plays multiple native instruments, including the Morin Khuur (an ancient fiddle), the Tovshuur (a Mongolian guitar) and the Mongolian flute.

“When I was younger, I learned throat singing in the Mongolian community,” said Ganganbaigal, whose family is from North Asia. “It took me seven years to learn and refine it.”

Tengger Cavalry’s format for the show at The Foundry features two very different sets. Each night of the tour has two individual hour-long sets by the band — the first featuring World Music, Mongolian folk and light acoustic jazz, and the second featuring heavy nomadic metal.

“We did two shows at Carnegie Hall that way,” said Ganganbaigal. “It shows the ultimate parts of the band. Before the audience sees the metal side, they have to see the folk side. The first half of the concert is a mix of jazz, blues, rock and traditional folk music. It’s an acoustic set. We picked songs from all our albums.

“The second set – the metal set – features songs from our latest album ‘Cian Bi.’ Six or seven songs are from that album and the rest are fan favorites – actually a balance between my favorites and the fans’ favorites. We can tell what they like from iTunes and Spotify.

“We recorded ‘Cian Bi’ last November in New York. The idea was there for a long time and ten I made a month to focus on the writing. I’m very pleased with the way it turned out.”

Video link for Tengger Cavalry – https://youtu.be/xZD7K68aaZo.

The show at the Lizard Lounge at the Chameleon Club will start at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20.

Other upcoming shows at the Chameleon Club are “Hot Jam Factory-Big Fat Meanies” with 25th Hour, Alastair, Wallace, Trash Juice On December 21 and Jimmie’s Chicken Shack on December 22.


Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org) will present “An A Cappella Holiday Celebration with Backtrack” on December 20, Edgardo Cintron & The Inca Band with “A Tribute to Santana” on December 21, “We Kids Rock – Holiday Show” on December 22 (11 a.m.), and Christmas with Vinyl Artifacts & Los Festingos on December 22.

The Steel City Coffee House (203 Bridge Street, Phoenixville, 610-933-4043, www.steelcitycoffeehouse.com) will host “Open Mic Night” om December 21, Brick Nova on December 22 and “Affinity Colabs Story & Poetry Slam” on December 23.

Chaplin’s (66 North Main Street, Spring City, 610-792-4110, http://chaplinslive.com) will host Kevin Cox, Juliana Danese, The Narrows and Box of Books​ on December 21, and Northern Lights and Alex Allegra on December 22.

The Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, 610-649-8389, www.ardmoremusic.com) will host Marky Ramone’s Blitzkrieg on December 20, Beru Revue Xmas Show with special guest No Good Sister on December 21, Orchard Lounge on December 22, and The Underground Thieves on December 23.

The Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com) presents Divine Hand Ensemble on December 20,

Christine Lavin with Crys Matthews on December 21, Annie Haslam “In The Spirit Of The Holidays” with Anton Roolaart on December 22, Chely Wright with Skip Denenberg on December 23, and Raymond The Amish Comic with  Mike Eagan on December 26.

The Locks at Sona (4417 Main Street, Manayunk, 484- 273-0481, sonapub.com) will host Mutlu with special guest Eric Scott on December 22.

The Queen (500 North Market Street, Wilmington, 202-730-3331, www.thequeenwilmington.com) will have DJ Jazzy Jeff on December 20, Montana Wildaxe on December 21, and Echoes – The American Pink Floyd on December 22.

Rrazz Room (6426 Lower York Road, New Hope, 888-596-1027, www.TheRrazzRoom.com) hosts Josh Zuckerman “Gone With The Music” New CD Release Party on December 21 and Sam Krivda’s Holiday Party on December 22.

The Candlelight Theatre (2208 Millers Road, Arden, Delaware, 302- 475-2313, www.candlelighttheatredelaware.org) is presenting “She Loves Me” now through December 23. Performances are Friday and Saturday evenings (doors 6 p.m./show, 8 p.m.) and Sunday afternoons (doors, 1 p.m./show, 3 p.m.). Tickets, which include dinner and show, are $63 for adults and $33 for children (ages 4-12).

   Send article as PDF   

Share this post:

Related Posts

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.