BWW Reviews: IT'S A HORRIBLE LIFE (Adults Only!)

BWW Reviews: IT'S A HORRIBLE LIFE (Adults Only!)BWW Reviews: IT'S A HORRIBLE LIFE (Adults Only!)It's a Horrible Life

Book and Lyrics by Ryan Landry, Directed by James P. Byrne; Costume Design, Scott Martino; Set Design, Windsor Newton; Choreography, MerEdith Langdon

CAST: Paul Melendy, George Bailey; Jessica Barstis, Mary Bailey; Ryan Landry, Mrs. Grinchley; Scott Martino, Skippy White; Olive Another, Little Edie; Gene Dante, Jesus Christ/Bruce Bailey/Liberace; Liza Lott, Violet Barrymore; Tim Lawton, Uncle Billy; Robyn Banks, Ma Bailey; Tad McKitterick, Adolph; William York, Bette Davis; Chorus: Christine McVein, Shelley Croteau, MerEdith Langdon, Briana McCheese, Jonathan L. Seigel, Stephanie White

Performances through December 22 by Gold Dust Orphans at Machine, 1254 Boylston Street, Boston, MA; Box Office

When Mrs. Grinchley cancels Christmas in Bedbug Falls, and George Bailey contemplates suicide by jumping off a bridge, it isn't the wannabe angel Clarence who comes to the rescue in Ryan Landry's It's a Horrible Life. No, in this clever mash-up of at least three different iconic stories, it is none other than Grey Gardens' Little Edie Bouvier Beale who hopes to secure her leopard-print wings by showing George just how much the life of one person matters. As anticipated, there's a Santa's list of unexpected characters and events in this off-beat production by the Gold Dust Orphans that will make your holiday merry, bright, and off-white (and decidedly off-color).

Landry's musical parody of Frank Capra's 1947 film It's a Wonderful Life sticks to the basics of the much-watched movie, but uses lots of poetic license to mold the borrowed story into something blue and boldly funny. Besides the aforementioned angel swap, Landry himself replaces mean old man Potter as the villainous green old lady Grinchley, reveals the hidden musical comedy talents of Jesus, and assigns minor roles to the likes of Liberace, Bette Davis, and Adolph Hitler. Broadway-style production numbers include "Boogie Woogie Nativity," "Winter Wonderland," and a song about the Bailey Building & Loan Association to the tune of "Gaston," featuring MerEdith Langdon's creative choreography performed by an ensemble of smiling chorus boys and girls (Christine McVein, Shelley Croteau, Langdon, Briana McCheese, Jonathan L. Seigel, and Stephanie White).

This cast is also bursting with some amazing vocalists, starting with Orphans newcomer Jessica Barstis (Mary Bailey), and regulars Liza Lott (Violet Barrymore), Gene Dante (Jesus, Liberace), and Tim Lawton (Uncle Billy). Paul Melendy also carries a good tune, but is more noteworthy for his rendering of Jimmy Stewart's distinctive drawl and his natural, winning portrayal of George Bailey. Barstis and Melendy, also treading these boards for the first time, have great chemistry in their book scenes, and blend well in their "Wonderland" duet. Orphan favorite Olive Another is fabulously droll as Edie, especially in her flag-waving song about Grinchley Town, and tosses off an uncountable number of Beale bon mots that will tickle you even if you don't know the Grey Gardens references.

Among the changes Landry makes in his adaptation are that George's mother (Robyn Banks) is a foul-mouthed puritan who ends up running a brothel, and to cast Mary's mother Skippy White (Scott Martino) as the town drunk/pharmacist whose bacon George saves by failing to deliver the poison prescription she mistakenly concocted. Martino also wears his other fashionable hat as the costume designer, creating an array that includes dancing snowflakes and gingerbread men, colorful biblical robes, Christmas-y outfits for Liberace and the Grinchley Dancers, and Edie's "revolutionary costume of the day." Windsor Newton's set design brings us to a variety of locales, including downtown Bedbug Falls, derelict Grinchley Town, the Bailey's home, and heaven. Props and sound and lighting cues enhance the gestalt of the production.

Director James P. Byrne guides the sleigh for It's a Horrible Life without missing a beat. Somehow, he understands the eternal cleverness of Landry's spotted mind and finds a way to put it all out there on the stage with pizzazz. With a core group of Orphans regulars who know the ropes, a matinee idol-worthy leading man, and an ingénue whose star is surely rising, Landry's newest holiday pageant is bound to earn its wings.

p.s. Leave the children at home!

Photo credit: Michael von Redlich (Gene Dante, Jessica Barstis, Paul Melendy, Olive Another)

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From This Author Nancy Grossman

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