Ryan Landry’s “It’s a Horrible Life” is outrageously funny and, quite likely, his finest work to date. And that’s really saying something.
If you’re not familiar with the troupe — get familiar. The Gold Dust Orphans have amassed a cult-like following over the last 20-plus years for their off-kilter, off-color, satiric lampooning of famous films. This time, the target of their lovingly irreverent wrath is the holiday classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Landry smartly inserts a new character into his madcap take on this all-American tale, Little Edie Beale of “Grey Gardens” fame. (If you don’t know who she is, you must see that documentary beforehand!)
Adding Beale raises the potential for hilarity to near head-spinning levels, and Orphan mainstay Olive Another capitalizes on this opportunity to shine in her raucous portrayal of the show’s only real-life character. But Olive is hardly the only highlight of this glitzy, camp-filled holiday extravaganza. Playing it straight on a stage filled with men in drag, dancing gingerbread men and Jesus in a gold loincloth cannot be an easy task, but Paul Melendy’s impressive turn as George Bailey is the glue that holds this merriment together.
While the residents of Bed Bug Falls eagerly perform big musical numbers like “Santa Bring My Cherry Back to Me” and “Boogie, Woogie Nativity,” Bailey earnestly grapples with life issues that eventually drive him to the brink of suicide. Even his wife Mary (Jessica Barstis) hits the skids, but gets rave reviews for her turn on the stripper pole.
The one-liners are sharper than ever and the show’s big musicals numbers (boasting impressive choreography by Meredith Langdon) are a delight. The ensemble’s comic timing, led by Landry’s phenomenal turn as Mrs. Grinchley, is impeccable.
But at its core, “It’s a Horrible Life” is filled with the heart and humanity of its inspiration. It’s just dressed a little differently.