For a variety of reasons, a number of Boston-area theater leaders have moved on in the past year.
Not Ryan Landry. Now in his 26th year as the artistic director of the Gold Dust Orphans, Landry is that most paradoxical of figures: the iconoclast as institution.
He boasts the kind of seniority very few cultural impresarios around here can rival. Fewer still can match the freewheeling camaraderie Landry enjoys with his fans.
At Sunday’s matinee of “A Grinchley Christmas Carol” — a raunchy musical mashup of Dickens and Dr. Seuss written by and starring Landry as Hermione P. Grinchley — he bantered with patrons during intermission and after the performance while attired in full Grinchy get-up, green makeup, and a frizzy wig that would have made Phyllis Diller weep with envy.
Watching him perform offstage as well as on, the thought occurred, and not for the first time: The guy cares. Beneath the layers of jokey insouciance, Landry is intensely committed to the art and craft of a good time.
That’s doubtless what his audience is looking for after the miserable past year and a half, and they’ll find it at “A Grinchley Christmas Carol.”
It’s a mark of Landry’s staying power that his holiday productions with his merry band of Orphans have attained the status of a seasonal tradition — decidedly in the category of naughty, not nice, though laced with sentimentality. (The show is recommended for ages 16 and up.) Mrs. Grinchley has been part of the Landry enterprise from the beginning: She made her first appearance in “How Mrs. Grinchley Swiped Christmas’' in 1995, the year Landry and Scott Martino founded the Orphans.
For “A Grinchley Christmas Carol,” directorial duties are ably shouldered again by Kiki Samko. Also an excellent actress, Samko plays the Ghost of Christmas Past and the skeletal Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. A very funny Nathaniel Hamilton is the Ghost of Christmas Present. Each of the specters visits the miserly Mrs. Grinchley over the course of a long night, their goal being the one painstakingly mapped out by Charles Dickens a century and a half ago: to teach a miserable old miser the true meaning of Christmas.
It probably goes without saying that most of what goes on in “A Grinchley Christmas Carol” is but slenderly connected to Dickens or Dr. Seuss.
Liza Minnelli lurches onto the scene, played by Delta Miles in a blue dress bedecked with sequins, and sings a hilarious number I shall refrain from describing, this being a family newspaper. Nor shall I go into detail about the rather, um, amorous equine who has an unusual definition of horseplay, or the prodigious, er, gift possessed by Dick McWillikers (Rowan Curran), Mrs. Grinchley’s former coworker at the combination strip joint and funeral home run by Mr. and Mrs. Frizziwig (Sarah Jones and Tim Lawton).
Landry’s aesthetic impulses sometimes boil down to: Why the hell not? So the do-gooders who beseech Mrs. Grinchley to contribute money to assist the poor turn out to be Captain Kirk (Rowan Curran) and Mr. Spock (Corey Desjardins). (”We had these costumes left over from our last show,” Landry cracked.) Dancing disco balls cavort across the stage just . . . because.
Inevitably, that barrage approach lends Landry’s shows a hit-or-miss quality, but the hits outnumber the misses. As ever, local and pop-culture references abound in “A Grinchley Christmas Carol,” from Route 1 and Club Café and the Pine Street Inn to Dave Chappelle to Costco to “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” As ever, there are rousing song-and-dance numbers replete with winking allusions to “Little Shop of Horrors,” “Les Miserables,” and (I think) the Broadway musical adaptation of “Beetlejuice,” as well as Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness” and Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
Mark Leahy is a cringing Max Cratchit, on the receiving end of Mrs. Grinchley’s abuse and eventual benevolence. Orphans regulars on hand include Martino as a quite literally falling-down-drunk Mrs. Cratchit. And who, you ask, plays Teeny Tiny Tim, the one who inspires a misanthrope to turn benefactor? Why, it’s none other than Dolly the Mustache Pup.
An adorable pooch belonging to Landry and Martino, who are married, Dolly wandered offstage a couple of times at Sunday’s performance, inspiring waves of affection from spectators, who reached over to pet her. With Ryan Landry and the Gold Dust Orphans, it’s all in the family.
A GRINCHLEY CHRISTMAS CAROL
Written by Ryan Landry. Directed by Kiki Samko. Music direction by Tim Lawton. Choreography by Delta Miles. Presented by Ryan Landry and the Gold Dust Orphans. At Iron Wolf Theatre, South Boston Lithuanian Citizens’ Association, South Boston. Tickets $49.99-$100. grinchleycarol.bpt.me, 800-838-3006. For ages 16 and up.