Broadway actor Gavin Lee had just hung up his Squidward tentacles when he was cast as the grouchiest guy on stage in yet another NYC theater production. Come Dec. 13, he’ll become Dr. Seuss’ “The Grinch” during its limited run at Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theater.
“I mean I wonder if the producers came to ‘SpongeBob’ and went, ‘Oh, that guy would be good playing the Grinch. I mean, it’s fairly obvious!” Lee says. “Both characters are in the same camp.”
They both live alone — and prefer it that way — have neighbors they can’t stand, and go out of their way to squash any and all outbursts of collective joy.
“It’s not too much of a jump from one character to the other for me,” the Tony-nominated actor says.
After landing notable roles in Broadway’s “Mary Poppins” in 2006 and “Les Miserables” in 2015, the 47-year-old actor seems to have found his footing as a family-friendly character actor slipping into roles that borrow bits of his own personality.
“I love that as I’m getting older and certainly transitioning out of juvenile lead roles, because I’m too old,” he laughs, “I’ve been able to go into much more extreme character roles and I think I’ve always been quite an extrovert, large actor.”
Believing there’s no such thing as “over the top” comes in handy when portraying a character as vile and angry as the Whoville Grinch.
“It’s just so easy with this script. He’s just so diabolical and negative from the very first time he steps on stage. His first line is, ‘I hate Christmas, the whole Christmas season,” he explains, adding that he looked to the 1966 TV movie, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” for inspiration. “It’s nice to be able to pull from something and then make it your own.”
Lee says the production’s director, Matt August, also gives him the freedom to adlib while live on stage, giving each show it’s own unique flair.
“There are a lot of places for the Grinch to almost break the fourth wall and turn to the audience to make comments about the show,” he says. “Our director was like you can’t go far enough if you want to ad-lib here, which is just a dream for an actor.”
Also rewarding: The chance to play a character with a redemption story.
Horrid as he is, stealing Christmas and all, the Grinch has a soft spot for presents and cookies — don’t we all?
“When the Grinch has his revelation and he realizes he’s one of the Whos, his heart grows three sizes and they’ve got a contraption that I put on with an LED light that makes my heart grow and palpitate on stage,” he explains. “I think it’s going to be a pretty magical moment.”
Setting the production back in New York City after a four-year absence will only add to the magic, he predicts.
“Sure, I think maybe New Yorkers have a reputation of sometimes being a little bit grumpy,” he laughs, “but I think New York is just waiting for ‘The Grinch’ to come back because it’s such a beautiful story.”
Tickets for the limited holiday run of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” are now on sale with dates spanning Dec. 13 through Dec. 30. Visit msg.com for more info.