Broadway hits come to National Theatre

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Barbara Ruben

Sam Cieri and Mackenzie Lesser-Roy play a Dublin street musician and young Czech songwriter in the musical Once, which opens the National Theatre’s Broadway at National season Nov. 25 to 27. Three other traveling versions of Broadway hits — How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Fun Home and Rent — round out the season.
Photo © Joan Marcus

Love Broadway musicals but can’t make it to New York as often as you’d like? National Theatre will feature traveling versions of four hits, including two Washington premieres, this season.

The downtown Washington theater first hosts a production of Once, winner of eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical, from Nov. 25 to 27.

Once tells the tale of a Dublin street musician who’s about to give up on his musical dreams when a beautiful young woman takes a sudden interest in his haunting love songs. As the chemistry between them grows, his music soars. But their unlikely connection turns out to be deeper and more complex than an everyday romance.

Based on the John Carney film of the same name, the musical evokes the intimacy of an Irish pub, with an ensemble of actors/musicians who play their instruments on stage.

The Grinch’s local premiere

Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! brings Whoville to Washington from Dec. 13 to 31 for the first time. In the show, the mean and scheming Grinch, whose heart is “two sizes too small,” decides to steal Christmas away from the holiday-loving Whos.

Featuring the hit songs “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and “Welcome Christmas,” the Grinch discovers there’s more to Christmas than he bargained for.

The Grinch celebrates a couple of anniversaries this year: the classic Dr. Seuss TV cartoon, based on his book, first aired 50 years ago, and it has been 10 years since the musical made its Broadway debut.

An older version of Max the dog narrates. The actor who plays him, Bob Lauder, spoke with the Beacon about his role and the enduring popularity of How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

“This is not a part that’s in the original Grinch. I’m playing the dog Max that everyone knows, but like 80 dog years later. So the show opens and you see him, suitcase in hand. It’s kind of left open to interpretation if he’s shuffling off to a new life.

“I suddenly hear the Whos in Whoville singing, and I wag my tail. So the show is all my memories,” said Lauder, 59.

And they are memories shared by millions of baby boomers and younger generations who have watched the cartoon version of the Grinch on TV every year since 1966.

“It’s about what Christmas is really all about,” Lauder added. “It’s about the way we feel, the closeness of being with friends and family, about how even the Grinch can grow and be redeemed.”

Fun Home in the spring

The Broadway at National season continues with Fun Home, a “tragicomic” musical that made history in 2015 by being the first musical exclusively written by women to ever win the Tony Award for Best Musical. Book and lyrics writer Lisa Kron and composer Jeanine Tesori also became the first female writing team to win the Tony for Best Score.

The musical is based on Alison Bechdel’s 2006 graphic novel of the same name, which looks back at her childhood, revealing memories of her dysfunctional family and exploring themes of sexual orientation, emotional abuse, suicide and more. 

Fun Home introduces the audience to Alison at three different ages as she explores and unravels the many mysteries of her childhood. It will be onstage April 18 to May 13.

Rent’s 20th anniversary

The first national tour of Rent made its Washington debut at the National Theatre in 1997, and the 20th anniversary tour returns to its stage next summer, from June 20 to 25.

A re-imagining of Puccini’s La Bohème, Rent follows an unforgettable year in the lives of seven artists struggling to follow their dreams without selling out. The Pulitzer- and Tony-winning rock musical has an inspiring message of joy and hope in the face of fear. 

Tickets for each show range from $48 to $98. They are available at the National Theatre box office, online at, or by calling 1-800-514-3849. The theater is located at 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, D.C.

 Subscription packages for The Grinch, Fun Home and Rent are available for $145 to $295 by calling the subscription hotline at (855) 486-2516 or online at Once is not included.

Note: New or renewing subscribers of the 2016-17 Broadway at the National season will receive priority access for tickets to Hamilton at the Kennedy Center upon renewing their subscription to Broadway at the National’s 2017-18 season.