The Grinch is “a beast and a half,” actor Gavin Lee said of the “cuddly as a cactus” costume he wears onstage at Madison Square Garden’s Hulu-ville theater.
It’s one of the more elaborate get-ups the Broadway actor has slipped into for his New York City stage gigs, with a very hairy body suit, built-in belly, headpiece and massive gloves.
We went backstage Friday ahead of the evening’s “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas” show where a dresser and makeup artist were helping Lee, 47, maneuver his way into the vile character’s signature garb.
“Like an hour and a half before show time, it’s off to the makeup chair,” he said, “which I’m very glad about that I could just sit down, study and start getting my body and voice into costume, too, while they make me look like a Grinch on the face.”
Costume prep at MSG serves as the perfect downtime for Lee to channel his inner grouch — something most likely made easier thanks to the New Jersey resident’s daily commute through Pennsylvania Station.
He demonstrated some of the Grinch’s recognizable frowns in the mirror while a makeup artist drew on a signature frown and oversized brows.
Though used to portraying grumps — he transferred to Whoville from Bikini Bottom in Broadway’s “Spongebob SquarePants” — Lee said it’s always an adjustment to iron out the oversized facial expressions and gestures that are unique to each character.
The movements “do have to be bigger, because when suddenly you’ve covered yourself in fur, you become more like a green blob rather than looking like a human,” he said, especially to those seated in the back of MSG’s 5,600-seat Hulu Theater.
“You have to be larger than life … if you look at yourself in the mirror, you look ridiculous,” he added.
Exaggerating his movements while stealing Christmas from Cindy Lou Who in a fuzzy bodysuit easily becomes an onstage workout.
“Every other Grinch who’s played this role apparently has had such a trouble with overheating,” Lee said. Actor Shuler Hensley last portrayed the Christmas thief during the show’s previous stint at MSG in 2014.
Lee’s trick: sticking ice packs in any space in the costume to try to cool down during quick 30-second scene breaks.
Stage tricks aside, Lee said just being in the costume itself creates all the magic he needs to bring the character to life.
“You haven’t got to do much and you look like some kind of ridiculous creature already,” he said. “So, then you just add in the physical movements and his famous hands and go from that.”
“How the Grinch Stole Christmas” has MSG dates through Dec. 30. Tickets start at $35.