From the Beast to Sweeney Todd, Broadway vet Jeff McCarthy has played his fair share of deep-voiced villains. Now he’s taking on the grumpiest bad guy of all: the Grinch in Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas at the Theater at Madison Square Garden. Broadway.com spoke with McCarthy about reuniting with his Urinetown castmates, losing weight with help from the Grinch and more.
Thanks for chatting with us today!
My pleasure. I’ve been doing interviews as the Grinch all morning and it’s nice to speak as myself. The Grinch’s voice is so gravelly.
What’s your take on this gruff green guy?
He’s a mean, old slithering guy, but he’s really just jealous. He’s jealous of what the kids have, he’s jealous of families. He wants a mommy and a daddy and a community and presents for Christmas. He’s not getting it, and hasn’t gotten it for thousands of years, and I think that’s the basically the bottom line with him. And we all feel that way at times.
What is it like getting into the Grinch getup eight times a week?
We do more than eight a week here at Madison Square Garden—it’ll be a workout! My face got feverish the first time they put all the makeup on me, but I’ve gotten used to it. I look forward to getting in costume, because you sweat like a crazy person and you lose weight, and that’s always a good thing. When I played the Beast [in Beauty and the Beast] on Broadway, it was similar—you get in great shape, and you sleep well because you’re burning calories like a crazy guy.
With fur-covered hands, what happens if you have to scratch your nose?
You don’t. You tap yourself or you get someone else to do it for you. It’s a challenge, for sure. The Grinch has these long fingers with this hair that grows out the ends. I have to be very careful not to poke myself in the eye!
This isn’t the first time you’ve played a green character who was animated by Chuck Jones. You also voiced the singing WB mascot, Michigan J. Frog, in the '90s.
That was the best job I ever had. I’d walk into the studio and go, [singing in frog voice] “Yeah!” And they’d write me a check for thousands of dollars. Did you know Chuck Jones, who animated The Grinch in the 1960, was the one who chose to go green for the Grinch? He cast Boris Karloff, and that’s why you always think of the Grinch as having a low voice. Dr. Seuss sort of objected, but he went with it ultimately, and the rest is history. I learned that from Linda Jones, Chuck’s daughter, who’s a good friend of mine.
You’re best known in the Broadway world as Officer Lockstock in Urinetown. Do you and the cast ever get together?
I see them all the time. I just did a workshop of Yeast Nation, which is the prequel to Urinetown, with Greg Kotis and Mark Hollmann, and they’ve got that in the works. Urinetown was such a fabulous, great time. It was supposed to open on September 13, 2001, and that definitely makes the memory much richer, although heartbreaking at the same time. It was a great honor to be part of the force that brought the spirit back after 9/11.
What do you want for Christmas?
I just want to have as much fun as possible with this role. It’s hopefully going to delight a lot of kids and their parents. There’s plenty of humor in it for everybody, not just the kids. It’s a huge spectacle, this production. It’s an eyeful, and the music is fabulous.
Have you gotten any tips from Broadway’s original Grinch, Patrick Page?
I saw him in Cyrano and chatted with him for a few minutes, but we didn’t talk shop. I didn’t know what to ask! But what I’d love to ask him now is “What’s the best way to get all this makeup off?” He knows better than anybody!
See Jeff McCarthy in Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas through December 30 at Madison Square Garden.