Santaland Diaries Returns With a Glorious Todd Waite as Crumpet the Elf
The set-up: Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. Christmas wishes do come true. Especially this year at the Alley, where grumpy protesters stomped their feet and demanded that Crumpet the Elf, beloved star of David Sedaris's Santaland Diaries (1996), be resurrected. Lo, it has come to pass; beloved star Todd Waite has returned. All is calm at the North Pole, there are long lines at the box office, and snarky laughter echoes throughout the Neuhaus Stage. Deck the halls with plenty of attitude.
The execution: Unnamed and unemployed, our hero of this one-man show, a 43-year-old gay schlub, has arrived in New York City seeking fame and fortune, preferably on the daytime soap classic One Life to Live. He would be thrilled to meet matriarch Victoria but is so besotted with showbiz that he's giddy to meet anyone who's ever met her. Without skills for a sensible job, he answers a newspaper ad for the next best thing: the glamor of being an elf at Macy's Santaland. How hard could it be? With hands on hip, like a male version of movie wise-cracker Joan Blondell, he tells all about this festive environment from hell and leads us on a laugh-filled hour of "relentless cheerfulness and grinding enthusiasm." Remember, Santa is an anagram for Satan. Check out our interview with Todd Waite.
In Joe Montello's deliciously jaundiced adaptation of Sedaris's radio essay about rampant Christmas consumerism, our elf, self-christened Crumpet, makes an infidel's progress through this most American of holiday traditions. There's the autocratic Elfin Guide; a chain-smoking, thoroughly grumpy floor manager; various psychotic coworkers; he's teased by a flirtatious Snowball, who leads him on; and has his teetering patience tried by harried parents and sweet little kiddies, who vomit from excitement or pee in the artificial snowbank.
To top it off, he's required to don a demeaning winter wonderland costume of green velvet with candy cane-striped leggings, pixie-toed shoes, and a daffy hat out of which his ears stick out. (Costumer Blaire Gulledge knows how to design tacky.)
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Swishing with incomparable technique, Waite knows how to perform tacky. He has a field day with this characterization he's honed to razor perfection after years of wearing those tights. His ad-libs to the audience are finger-snap perfect. Haloed in a pin spot, enveloped in cigarette smoke, his Billie Holiday rendition of "Away in the Manger" is a classic of some form of camp. In impressionistic, ever shorter scenes as the days count down to the finale, Christmas Eve, events get wilder and more out of control.
Waite keeps up the manic pace with masterful spin, abetted by taut direction from David Cromer. There's a lovely patch of sentiment near the end, as a new, unknown Santa relays the true meaning of Christmas to a father and his daughter, but the politically incorrect antics pick up soon enough to end on merry high spirits.
The verdict: If you've never experienced the hilarious, bitchy exploits of Crumpet the Elf, by all means scamper to the Alley and give yourself the best Christmas present ever. Laughter's always better than another tie. Crumpet sashays through Macy's bedecked hallways until December 31 at the Alley Theatre, 615 Texas. Purchase tickets online at alleytheatre.org or call 713-220-5700. $39-$50.
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