By Manning Harris

Nothing stops the indomitable Crumpet, head elf of Horizon Theatre’s long-running holiday hit “The Santaland Diaries,” based on humorist David Sedaris’ own story of being hired as an elf in New York’s Macy’s; this is Crumpet’s 18th year with no end in sight, and the show runs through Dec. 31.

Not wind, cold, snow, or even a new edict from the author (Joe Mantello adapted) and agents that now says only Crumpet himself may speak the lines, evidently now regarded as holy writ, can stop the brilliant Harold M. Leaver from soaring in the role he has made his own.

You see, Crumpet has help from his Holiday Helpers, played by Lala Cochran and Enoch King; they are both extremely gifted comic actors and, it turns out, superb mimes as well. They continue to play about 30 parts each and are not slowed down a bit by not voicing lines; they simply plunge all the more vigorously into fall-down funny physical comedy and the show sails as usual.

Even the joyously gay Crumpet’s famous flirting with attractive young men in the audience (now the agents forbid actual dialogue with audience members) has not slowed down. Mr. Leaver just simply winks and urges a young man to join the actors onstage for an amusing short sequence; and Crumpet really flirts with everybody. There’s no “fourth wall” for him; if you see this show (which continues to sell out, by the way), you are automatically part of the party—not just a staid observer.

Crumpet is our head cheerleader; he even finds humor in the humiliating audition one must undergo to be hired as a Macy’s elf; everything from the required urine sample (Crumpet worries that a bit of marijuana could show up) to being told, “You are not a dancer. If you were a real dancer you wouldn’t be here. You’re an elf and you’re going to wear panties like an elf.” By the way, this holiday show is for adults or older teenagers. “A Christmas Carol” is up the street.

Of course Crumpet minces no words as he comments on his job, his co-workers, and the holiday-crazed grown-ups, who are grimly determined that their children will meet Santa, come hell or high water, and smile pretty for the camera while doing it! Murphy’s Law can and does prevail; stuff goes awry.

I wanted to see how the show played with the new agent/author rules. The answer is that is continues to work beautifully. Harold M. Leaver seems lit from within with merriment, and it is highly infectious. He finds comic nuance that can only come from much talent and a long familiarity with the character. There are other Crumpets around the country, I suppose, as this show has gained fame. I hereby award Mr. Leaver the world’s best Crumpet; he is incomparable.

The show is up to date and topical; there are fleeting political references (not too many—too much ill-will and nervousness remain in that area). There are people who have seen “Santaland” ten times; think about it—a show has got to have something going for it to inspire that kind of loyalty. And there are “Santaland” virgins. They are welcome, too. The audience response is unfailingly positive.

The show is directed by Jeff Adler. Set design is by Isabel and Moriah Curley-Clay (I’ve lost track of how many Suzi Awards they have won). Costume design is by Abby Parker. The play runs 90 minutes with no intermission.
“The Santaland Diaries” has turned into a cash cow for Horizon Theatre; I certainly hope so; they deserve it. As I mentioned, they’re close to a total sellout through New Years Eve. Try for tickets anyway; don’t despair if you have no luck. “Santaland” may run forever.

For tickets and information, visit horizontheatre.com.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.

3 replies on “Theatre Review: ‘The Santaland Diaries’ at Horizon”

  1. As someone who has seen this show at the at 5 times, I disagree with your assessment. What was once on our must do list for the holiday season has now, sadly, been removed. The current show – which might still be entertaining for the newbies – is a shell of it’s former self. My wife and I are disappointed enough that we are currently crafting a plea to the author in the hopes of removing the current set of rules.

  2. I certainly applaud your writing to the author–and I hope you are successful. I said the show continues to work beautifully (the actors’ talent has not suddenly disappeared); I didn’t say it was better. I also prefer the way it was before, but I admire Horizon for pressing on. Most patrons would not trouble themselves to take action as you are–bravo to you and your wife–you sound like true fans. And thank you for writing Atlanta INtown.

  3. We have been to see “The Santaland Diaries” for four years now. I personally don’t care for the changes. We discussed the performance, on the way home. Everyone was in agreement that Harold being the only one speaking caused the overall experience to be lack luster. Absolutely nothing against Harold, he is wonderful. We just missed the way the actor’s play off one another. We also missed the audience participation and interaction. Not really sure why these changes were made but as a fan, I have to wonder ” why are they trying to fix something that ain’t broken”. I realize my words will fall on deaf ears but I’m afraid that if you mess with a proven formula for success that isn’t always wise. Kinda like new coke and classic coke. We enjoy supporting the arts and will be back again next Christmas. Please don’t continue to overthink this and suck the fun out of the play, the actors and the audience deserve better.

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