Philip Huffman loves everything about playing the Grinch, even on Saturdays.
Huffman, a California native now based in New York City, plays the title character in the national touring production of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical,” coming to Proctors in Schenectady for 10 performances in five days beginning Wednesday. On Saturday, Dec. 8, he will be on stage for four shows, beginning at 11 a.m.
“One thing about doing four shows in one day is you learn a lot about yourself,” said Huffman, who is spending his third consecutive holiday season as the Grinch. “By the fourth show I’m kind of a missing person, but I love that the show is popular enough to draw that kind of crowd.”
Huffman says he gets to the theater around 9:30 a.m. each Saturday where hair and makeup artist Barbie McCann does her work, turning Huffman into the somewhat creepy character created by Dr. Seuss back in 1957.
“Barbie does my hair and makeup and it takes about 45 minutes,” said Huffman. “Then, getting into everything else, the costume and the personality, takes about 15 minutes. “I will remain in makeup throughout the day and Barbie will do re-touches for each show. Yes, you do learn a lot about yourself doing it four times a day.”
“How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical” debuted on Broadway in November of 2006, but the show’s first production dates back to November of 1994 when it was performed by the Minneapolis Children’s Theatre Company. Timothy Mason wrote the book and lyrics, based on an original score by Mel Marvin. Both men paid homage to the original book by by Dr. Seuss, the pen name for Thodor Seuss Geisel.
“The musical is heavily based on the original book, just like the animated movie,” said Huffman. “We try to keep true to the book, and I think it’s a wonderful representation of Dr. Seuss’s work. What you see in the book is pulled into a 3-D world and placed on the stage in a spectacular way. It’s like you’re really stepping into the world of Dr. Seuss.”
While he’s been in New York City for 14 years now and is ensconced in the theater world, Huffman grew up in Fresno, California, and never seriously thought about acting until he got to college.
“There were a lot of things I wanted to do when I was 17,” said Huffman, who spent a lot of time playing football and wrestling. “At one point I wanted to be a mathematician, at another time a wildlife biologist. I kind of fell into acting in an odd way. If I took a class and got interested in it I thought about pursuing it in my life. I took an acting class in my first semester and got offered a scholarship to go study acting in Australia. After that, things kind of kept on snowballing. I figured I must be doing something right, so I kept on doing it.”
Huffman ended up studying acting at a couple of different conservatories as well as the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago. Along with playing the Grinch, he has also performed as the lead in “Beauty and the Beast.”
“Every time I book a job now my friends are joking with me about it,” Huffman said, laughing. “I’m getting jobs and they’re always covering up my face. It’s giving me a complex.”
Along with taking up acting relatively late, Huffman also didn’t start singing until he was well into his teenage years.
“I didn’t really start to train vocally until I went to New York when I was 19,” he said. “I’m pretty comfortable with it now. I’ve been doing musicals for about a decade now and I really enjoy them.”
His favorite musical is “Carousel,” but he hasn’t had the opportunity to play Billy Bigelow, at least not thus far.
“I really enjoy ‘Carousel,’ and that’s the show that I’ve wanted to do for a while now,” he said. “It’s not done that often in regional theaters so I haven’t had the chance to do it yet.”
While he hopes to add the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic to his resume, Huffman is happy he can stay busy during the holiday season doing the Grinch.
“I’m a lyric baritone, so I love doing all the classic musicals,” he said. “But I’m very grateful that I get an opportunity to portray a beloved character like the Grinch every Christmas. It’s a show that people love and keep coming back for and I hope to keep on doing it as long as somebody wants me.”
When Huffman is done with his gig this month, he’ll head back to New York City and more auditions.
“I’m going to pop out to California to see my family, and then I’m not sure what I’m going to do,” said Huffman. “I’m always asking myself, ‘what am I going to do next?’ It’s always on my mind, but I guess it’s back to New York and more auditions.”
‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical’
WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
WHEN: 7 p.m. Wednesday, 1:30 and 7 p.m. Thursday, 7 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m., 2, 5 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 1 and 5 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $80-$20
MORE INFO: (518) 346-6204, or visit www.proctors.org
About ‘Dr. Seuss’
Author Theodor Seuss Geisel was born March 2, 1904 in Springfield, Massachusetts. His father owned a brewery but eventually became supervisor of the public park system in Springfield after Prohibition put an end to the family business.
Geisel went to Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, graduating in 1925 after having served as editor-in-chief of the school’s humor magazine. He headed to Oxford to pursue a doctorate in English literature but never finished there. Instead he took the advice of his future wife, Helen Palmer, and returned to the U.S. to pursue a writing and drawing career.
His first nationally published cartoon appeared in the Saturday Evening Post on July 16, 1927. His art appeared in Life Magazine, Liberty and Vanity Fair, and throughout the Great Depression he found work drawing advertisements for NBC, General Electric and Standard Oil.
During World War II Geisel, who began using the pen name, Dr. Seuss, at Dartmouth, worked as a political cartoonist and also produced animated projects for the U.S. Army. After the war he returned to writing children’s books and produced “If I Ran the Zoo” (1950), “Horton Hears a Who!” (1955), “The Cat in the Hat” (1957), “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (1957) and “Green Eggs and Ham” (1960).
His books have spawned numerous adaptations, including 11 television specials, four feature films, a Broadway musical and four television series.
He died in 1991 at the age of 87, after producing more than 60 books in 20 languages with sales of over 600 million copies.
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