Director Nat Miller isn’t a stranger to Zach Theatre’s Mainstage productions – The Santaland Diaries is his third – but he’s spent more time directing shows for Zach’s Theatre for Families series. But despite Santaland’s decidedly more adult nature, he says the jobs are pretty similar. “I find that Santaland Diaries and doing plays for young people aren’t that different,” Miller says with a laugh. “It is on top of a toyland set. There just happens to be some swearing involved.
The Santaland Diaries began life as a comic essay by author David Sedaris, whose reading of the piece debuted on NPR’s Morning Edition some twenty-six years ago and has become a public radio holiday tradition. A few years after the essay’s first airing, it was adapted by playwright Joe Mantello as a one-man stage show, and that show’s gone on to become a Christmastime tradition in its own right. It’s been a holiday favorite at Zach for years, starring a handful of different actors as the wannabe-actor-turned-Macy’s-elf Crumpet. This year, Crumpet’s played by J. Robert Moore, who first took on the role a few years ago in a San Antonio production.
“It feels very different than the last time I did it,” he says. “I think I might’ve been a little bit too young to play the part when I played it the first time. There are some things that feel more right about this time.”
Crumpet’s still a young man, but his time in New York has made a bit prematurely world-weary. “Living in New York definitely does that to you at a certain point, which I think is the story of this show,” Moore says. “This show’s about a guy who moves to New York thinking it’s going to be one way, and he’s going to immediately skyrocket to fame and fortune, and just realizes that it’s not quite like that. And you really have to find your own happiness up there and just in life in general.”
“What’s funny about this show is it’s an “anti-Christmas” show – quote-unquote – but it’s such a holiday show and it has so much music, it’s actually putting me in the mood for the holidays,” director Miller says.
Moore agrees, but adds, “There are parts of the holidays that annoy everyone… so I think that no matter where you come from on the holiday spectrum, there is totally something in this show you’re going to relate to.”
When you take on a show that’s become a holiday tradition, part of the challenge is finding a way to put a fresh spin it. And for this production of The Santaland Diaries, Miller and Moore have embraced Crumpet’s Broadway ambitions and Moore’s actual musical theater abilities. “There’s a fair amount of singing in the show that was not there before, so buckle up,” says Miller. “You know, he’s going go New York to try and be an actor – and a musical theater actor – so we wanted to play with seeing him actually living that dream.”
“You get to see the fantasy for a bit,” says Moore. “It’s like you’re sitting in your living room with your friend talking about his horrible day at work.”