HiT Review: ‘The SantaLand Diaries’

“National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” showed a dad blowing a gasket over seasonal expectations. “A Christmas Story” shared the wonder of waiting for that toy you can’t live without.

“The SantaLand Diaries” by David Sedaris uncorks the madness behind Macy’s annual Christmas extravaganza.

The new Christmas staple, now playing through Dec. 24 at The Gamer Galleria Theatre in Denver, offers Sedaris’ take on the worst gig he ever had.

What’s missing from this “SantaLand Diaries,” presented by the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company, are the heart-tugging moments that made Clark and Ralphie’s Christmas pains worth the fuss.

COMMERCIAL: The SantaLand Diaries

Star Matt Zambrano captures Sedaris’ real-life woes as a 33-year-old desperate enough to wear pointy shoes to pay rent.

What’s the worst that could happen? For starters, wannabe elves must take a drug test.

From there, our hero endures flirtatious colleagues, mean-spirited parents and kids worn to a frazzle by long Santa lines. The inner workings of the chain’s display deserve all the mockery Sedaris can muster. He views it all through a quirky, protective lens, and when he finally opens his heart up to the holiday it feels a tad too late.

Read any Sedaris story collection and you’ll his signature style of diminishing returns. Those first few pages dazzle with humor and insight, but by mid-book the layers of mischief start to suffocate. The same holds true with “The SantaLand Diaries,” although through no fault of its talented star.

Whether Zambrano is belting out a Cher song, doing cartwheels across the stage or having a heartfelt chat with a Hello Kitty stuffed toy, he’s always got our attention.

Zambrano, a slam poet and spoken-word artist, uses every theatrical trick up his Elven sleeve. The show’s production does the rest, giving him a shrewdly efficient set to work from and lighting cues that bridge the show segments. The spartan set opens up soon enough to reveal a Rubik’s cube of Christmas cheer.

This overgrown elf isn’t an integral part of the season like the Griswalds, but for those fed up with long lines “The SantaLand Diaries” offers a cheeky respite.

DID YOU KNOW: Denver native Matt Zambrano’s first job wasn’t working the elf circuit but playing “Deputy Dog/Puppeteer” at Casa Bonita. The iconic Mexican restaurant, featuring cliff-diving acrobats, was once featured on Comedy Central’s “South Park” program.

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