I know you come here for the food, but did you know that I also love the theater?
I actually did a review of “In the Heights” for About Atlanta, but haven’t written about plays and such here. I’ve recently seen two delightful Christmas performances, though, and have to tell you about them! I’ve also paired them up with local dining suggestions.
Atlanta is home to the largest nonprofit dedicated to the art of puppet theater. The Center for Puppetry Arts opened in 1978 and the star-studded opening saw Kermit the Frog and his creator, Jim Henson, doing the ribbon cutting. Since then the Center has worked hard to preserve the legacy of puppets, and we’re not just talking marionettes or Lamb Chop. I haven’t had a chance to explore the Center yet, but Kristin and I attended an afternoon performance of Rudolph and were totally blown away by the quality of the production.
The play is intended for children four and up, but this 29-year-old’s eyes lit up and my heart got all melty when I entered the auditorium and saw the delightful set with pine trees and snowy dunes. The first time we meet Rudolph I may have squealed with joy from cuteness overload. It’s based on the classic television special and has the same whimsical vibe with chirpy music and darling puppet critters. Note, though, that the special first aired in the 1960’s, and the play maintains some of the original sadness brought on by the dark plot (like Rudolph’s entire family and town shunning him because of his red nose). I forgot how heartbreaking that part of the story is. But Rudolph bucks up, befriends Hermey the Elf and Yukon Cornelius, and together they have an adventure and persevere. Spoiler alert: Rudolph saves the day and there’s a happy ending!
The puppeteers came out after the play and shared fun details about the set and puppets. I had no idea that the puppets for the show were created in-house! That gave me a whole new appreciation for the show. You can also explore the museum and create your own puppet to take home with you. Too much fun!
Hungry? I recommend heading just down the street from the Center to Atlantic Station for The Pig and The Pearl. It’s spacious, has beautiful, nautical decor and tasty meat and seafood offerings. Afterward, you can walk around Atlantic Station and check out their ice skating rink. Sounds like a fun, Christmassy day to me!
Whereas Rudolph is sweet and charming (albeit a little dark), Santaland Diaries is acerbic and totally just for adults. Oh, and it’s hilarious. The Horizon Theatre is a professional theater that’s been serving up plays to the Atlanta community since 1983. It resides in Little Five Points and probably has some stories to tell about the quirky neighborhood. We saw the Santaland Diaries on a cold night, so I was thrilled when I walked up to the concession stand and saw “hot chocolate with cheer” on the menu. I don’t know what kind of cheer went into that hot chocolate but it warmed me up, and the sweet, chocolatey concoction was delightful.
The most surprising tidbit of the play was that it’s basically a one-man show. Our lead man, an unemployed writer who takes on the alter ego of Crumpet the Elf, gives us the scoop on what it’s like to work in Macy’s during the throes of Christmas. The supporting cast does a fantastic job of taking on different characters relying mostly on facial expressions and body language. I’m not sure I’ll ever look at a mall Santaland the same way again!
The lead has been played by Harold M. Leaver for 17 years! He’s so perfect in the role playing it with zest and charm, and has clearly made it his own after nearly two decades. I swear some of the facial expressions he made reminded me of Ralphie in “A Christmas Story”… so naturally I was smitten.
The show is 90 minutes straight through, but you won’t even notice the lack of intermission and if you’re like me, you’ll feel a little bummed when it’s over. Crumpet pulls you into his zany world and you won’t want to leave.
Hungry? Since this is a nighttime show, here’s how I think your evening should go: pre-theater drinks at nearby Amer; a warm bowl of ramen at the late-night ramen spot, Nexto after. Nexto is new and turns out the most flavorful bowls of ramen I’ve had in Atlanta. For a smack of smokey, spicy flavor order the bacon miso ramen.
There are more holiday shows popping up around town but these are the ones I’ve seen so far. I’ll update if I see any more! Anyone plan on seeing anything special this holiday season?