When you walk into the Whisenhunt Stage to see their current production of The Santaland Diaries and are greeted with fractured Christmas songs such as "Chipmunks Roasting on an Open Fire," "It's the Most Fattening Time of the Year," and "Yellow Snow, Yellow Snow, Yellow Snow," you know you're in for an unconventional and twisted Holiday show. In its final year at ZACH, their annual production of Santaland Diaries is still fresh, entertaining, and hysterical.
Much of the show's success is owed to the source material by beloved writer David Sedaris. Based on a collection of his essays about various holiday memories, especially his stint as an elf in Macy's Department Store in New York, Sedaris tears Santa a new one with his satiric wit and biting humor. Director Dave Steakley embellishes the tongue-and-cheek tone set by Sedaris by adding a 1st act to the show which features some naughty Holiday themed lounge act numbers (performed to perfection by Jill Blackwood), and another Sedaris penned Christmas rant, this one about a loveable prostitute. While the first act may be full of unique material, they tie in perfectly to the sardonic thrill ride of the second act.
Steakley's design team works wonders within the intimate 130 seat Whisenhunt Theatre, creating a magical and delightfully cheesy winter wonderland. The set by Heyd Fontenot looks exactly like a department store display, complete with copious amounts of stuffed animals, fake snow, and spinning snowmen. Jason Amato's lighting is sparkling, whimsical and playful, often adding to the punch lines in Sedaris's text. And Blair Hurry's costumes are fabulous. Jill Blackwood is adorned in gorgeous gowns while star Martin Burke gets an amusing and jingly elf costume.
But what really makes The Santaland Diaries a holiday hit is the top-notch cast. Jill Blackwood pairs her fine voice and her comedic chops with her lounge act numbers. "Making Love Alone," a number about a special Christmas gift we can all give ourselves, and "Surabaya Santa," a number about a disillusioned Mrs. Claus, are highlights. Blackwood's ode to self-medication, "Ten Pills and Your Fine," brings down the house. And Martin Burke is a crowd-pleaser and a delight. He's adorable and easily oscillates between the various characters he's called upon to portray. Burke takes on the role with a combination of enthusiasm, joy, humor, and wit that is a rare find, and his interactions with the audience are worth the price of admission alone. And Jason Connor on the piano is perfect as well.
At this time of year, many of us try to find a Holiday themed show that embodies the sentimentality and spirit of Christmas. If that's what you're looking for, see Santaland Diaries, and then by all means keep looking. This isn't your kids' or your grandma's Christmas show, but if you can handle a potty-mouthed elf, I guarantee you'll love every minute.
Run time: Approximately 2 hours, including one 15 minute intermission. Not recommended for children.
THE SANTALAND DIARIES plays The Whisenhunt Stage at ZACH Theatre now thru December 23rd. Starring Martin Burke, Jill Blackwood (matinees), Amy Downing (evenings) and Jason Connor. Tickets are $35-$65. For performance schedule, tickets, and information, visit www.zachtheatre.org.
Pictured: Martin Burke in THE SANTALAND DIARIES. Photo by Kirk R. Tuck.