Who's Holiday? Hopefully not your holiday — not unless you've been very naughty. There are few people upon whom I would wish the fate of Cindy Lou Who as imagined by Matthew Lombardo in Who's Holiday! Yet her unfortunate situation seems intended to be the primary source of laughs in this salty comedy of questionable taste, now playing at the Westside Theatre.
For those not hip to 20th-century children's literature, Who's Holiday is an unofficial sequel to the Dr. Seuss Christmas book that became a beloved animated television special. Cindy Lou Who is the adorable tot who catches the Grinch (a green, cave-dwelling monster) in the act of stealing Christmas, mistaking him for Santa Claus. Like many a child star, adulthood has not been kind to Cindy Lou (played here as an over-the-hill recluse by Lesli Margherita). Seuss's story ends when Cindy Lou is "not more than two," but Lombardo has her pick it up from there. Cindy Lou mixes a gin and vodka and tells us how the Grinch became a father figure in the ensuing years, taking her for ice cream and teaching her to ride a bike. Like a chartreuse Woody Allen, he reveals his sexual intentions by her 18th birthday. Once she discovers that she is carrying the Grinch's child, she decides to marry him, resulting in her exile from Whoville. A series of bad decisions leads her to destitution on Mt. Crumpit, then prison, and finally, the trailer we see before us.
Despite its Seussian form (Lombardo has written almost the entire show in rhyming couplets), this pitch-black twist is not recommended for children or anyone who holds precious childhood memories of the Grinch. Who's Holiday is powered by the kind of campy, bitter humor one might find lurking in a dark corner of a gay bar on Christmas Eve, recited to a stranger as a sad go-go boy does a half-hearted routine to George Michael's "Last Christmas." True to form, it becomes maudlin as the evening progresses and the liquor flows.
Lombardo attempts to salvage his burnt piecrust of a play with massive amounts of whipped cream, sending us out with a sing-along and a feel-good Christmas message. But by then, it is difficult to feel much more than confusion.
Incredibly, Margherita nearly saves the play with her irrepressible comic instincts.
One of the funniest actors in New York, she draws the audience in with her charm and energy. She even makes the verse tolerable, occasionally ad-libbing comments on Lombardo's more desperate rhymes. Even those not amused by the premise will struggle not to laugh at her antics.
Director Carl Andress smartly lets Margherita do her thing while providing her with a lavish production. Set designer David Gallo places a full-size trailer in the snowy foothills of Mt. Crumpit, stuffing the little room to the gills in a way that shows it has been well lived-in. Costumer Jess Goldstein wraps Margherita up like a Christmas gift, complete with ribbons and sequins, while Charles G. Lapointe gives her a permed wig that looks like it was taken off the set of Working Girl. There are two lighting designers (Ken Billington and Jonathan Spencer) for this one-hour solo show, and I can happily report that we can always see the stage. Bart Fasbender delivers excellent sound for the two musical numbers.
I walked away convinced that Lesli Margherita ought to have a Christmas special, but perhaps not one written by Lombardo. Who's Holiday is the off-Broadway equivalent of an ugly Christmas sweater given in jest — while it delights for a moment, come February you will have completely forgotten about it.