The Grinch: Interview with Shuler Hensley

Shuler Hensley Headshot

As one of the most iconic and symbolic Christmas stories ever told, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! holds a special place in the hearts and minds of children and adults throughout the world. Written in rhymed verse and originally published in 1957, the story is a Dr. Seuss masterpiece that has been retold and reimagined through television, film, and most recently, as a musical on stage. This month, the acclaimed musical now starring Shuler Hensley as The Grinch returns to The Theater at Madison Square Garden for a limited engagement run from Dec. 5 – 28. NYC Monthly was honored to speak with Mr. Hensley recently about his upcoming role…

NYCM: This is a traveling production. What’s the energy like performing here in NYC? 

SH: The Theater at Madison Square Garden is one of the most renowned entertainment venues in New York City. As a stage actor it’s very rare to perform in a theater that has over five thousand seats. As you can imagine the energy is electric. I’m so incredibly thrilled to be a part of this production.

NYCM: The Grinch is one of the most iconic holiday characters. What’s it like playing such a huge role in this classic story?  

SH: The Grinch is so iconic because underneath his “Grinchly” exterior he’s really someone that everyone can relate to. Even though he’s grumpy, green, and doesn’t like the residents of Whoville, everyone can see the reasons why he’s that way – because he’s cut himself off from the world. It’s also such a well-planned character and story. Children start off being scared of the Grinch… but eventually they fall in love with him!

NYCM: What’s it about the story and character that has allowed it to withstand the test of time? 

SH: The Grinch is just such a relatable character. The wonderful thing about this tale, or any Dr. Seuss book, is the rhyme scheme and the fact that anyone, child or adult can take away something from the story.

NYCM: What does the story mean to you personally? What do you find most special about it?

SH: This story has been a part of all of my Christmas seasons since I was about 8 years old. Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas sets the mood of the holiday season… it’s what everyone thinks the holidays are and what the holidays should be, about wrapped into one story.

NYCM: What are some of the production’s highlights? 

SH: When the Grinch is revealed for the first time it’s always an exciting moment. To see the reaction from the children in the crowd is amazing! The finale is incredible because the audience is encouraged to sing along while snow falls throughout the theater.  It really brings the audience into the show and makes them a part of the production and ultimately, spreads holiday cheer!

NYCM: Your career on Broadway has been incredible to follow. How does this role differ from other characters you’ve played?  

SH: Obviously the writing of a Dr. Seuss story will be incredibly different than any other show that I’ve been in. Aside from that, I’ll tackle this role the way that I would any other… By finding the character’s humanity.

NYCM: What are the costumes and set design like?

SH: The costumes and sets are very true to the book, which I love. To see Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical live is like opening the book and turning the pages, which is fantastic.

NYCM: Why should someone who knows the book or TV special want to see this show?

SH: It’s amazing to have the images from the book become three-dimensional and then when you add the music and songs, well that aspect of the show is not really something you can find on the pages.

NYCM: How do you get into character, especially when playing someone as negative and nasty as the Grinch?

SH: Because The Grinch is an iconic character audiences are already familiar with (and know all about his assumed grumpiness), it is a challenge just like playing any other character. But I ask myself, ‘Why is he like this?’ Again, it’s ultimately about finding the character’s humanity.

NYCM: Answer a question as The Grinch – how do you plan to spend your time in NYC?

GRINCH: Well…  I plan to stay as far away from holiday celebrations in New York City as I can. Maybe I’ll hit the parks and find a bridge or two to hide under. If you know of any caves – that would be even better! You know how I get around the holidays!