As the holiday season gets underway, local theaters bring out their heavy hitters, many sure to appeal to LGBT audiences.

At the perennial top of the Christmas must-see list is Horizon Theatre’s “The Santaland Diaries.” Openly gay actor Harold Leaver returns for a 13th time as the sarcastic main character, who becomes a department store elf to earn some money one holiday season. It’s based on gay writer David Sedaris’ own experience, as told in his “Holidays On Ice.”

According to Leaver, for whom the role has been career-defining, it’s a production that has stayed snarky throughout the years – and kept its gay sensibility intact. A few years ago, “The Santaland Diaries” lost its original director Clint Thornton (with Jeff Adler taking over) but it’s kept on charming audiences, with the cast and crew finding ways to make the comedy fresh.

An event bound to be campy will be drag diva Varla Jean Merman in “The Book of Merman” at Actor’s Express. The statuesque Merman, who has appeared in everything from “Project Runway” and “Girls Will Be Girls” to “Ugly Betty,” will perform in her relatively new show, which Merman launched in Provincetown this year.

Freddie Ashley, artistic director of Actor’s Express, thinks that it will be immensely popular.

“Varla Jean has a sizable following,” he says. “When we had the chance to host her here, we jumped.”

Ashley says audiences can expect Varla Jean’s quintessential brand of entertainment – “A lot of music and comedy. She’s just very funny.”

Fabrefaction Theater Company, fresh off of a well-received version of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd,” gives us “The Rocky Horror Show” for the holidays.  Of course, it finds young couple Brad and Janet – their car having broken down – knocking on the door of a castle that belongs to the bisexual, cross-dressing Dr. Frank-N-Furter. The musical is given a wintry spin in this version.

The Center for Puppetry Arts has brought back its sold-out hit of last year, “Rudolph: The Red-Nosed Reindeer.” It’s very faithful to the original material, with the red snouted Rudolph shunned by his fellow reindeer, while Hermey the elf is ridiculed for wanting to be a dentist. Gay audiences will not only enjoy its nostalgic side, but its story of two outsiders/misfits. “Rudolph” is fun for children and adults alike.

One production bound to make noise is “Odysseo,” making its U.S. debut in December in Atlanta. “Odysseo” features dozens of performing horses and equestrian acts under a giant big top tent.  Its predecessor, “Cavalia,” was extremely popular in town a few years back and I expect this one to be as well.

Another new-to-Atlanta production is a musical version of the classic tale “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” virtue of the Atlanta Broadway Series.  It’s all about the dastardly Grinch who wrecks Christmas but then gets a change of heart. It will truly be interesting to see how the material gets turned into a musical.

Onstage Atlanta’s “A 1940s Radio Christmas Carol” is one of the company’s multiple holiday offerings. It’s a good-feel production directed by lesbian Cathe Hall Payne and starring a number of out performers.

For purists, the Alliance Theatre has its annual, lavish “A Christmas Carol,” while Dad’s Garage hosts the largely improvisational “Invasion: Christmas Carol,” which has a new character invading the world of Scrooge each night.

Productions this holiday season

‘Rudolph: The Red-Nosed Reindeer’
Through Dec. 31 at Center for Puppetry Arts
1404 Spring St., Atlanta, GA 30309
www.puppet.org

‘The Santaland Diaries’
Nov. 25 – Jan. 1 at Horizon Theatre
1083 Austin Ave., Atlanta, GA 30307
www.horizontheatre.com

‘A Christmas Carol’
Nov. 25 – Dec. 24 at Alliance Theatre
1280 Peachtree St., Atlanta, GA 30309
www.alliancetheatre.org

‘Invasion: Christmas Carol’
Nov. 25 – Dec. 23 at Dad’s Garage
280 Elizabeth St., Atlanta, GA 30307
www.dadsgarage.com

‘A 1940s Radio Christmas Carol’
Nov. 25 – Dec. 18 at Onstage Atlanta
2597 North Decatur Road, Decatur, GA 30033
www.onstageatlanta.com

‘Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical’
Nov. 29 – Dec. 4 at Fox Theatre
660 Peachtree St., Atlanta, Georgia 30308
www.foxtheatre.org

‘The Rocky Horror Show’
Dec. 1 – 23 at Fabrefaction Theatre
999 Brady Ave., Atlanta, GA 30318
www.fabrefaction.org

‘Merry Little Holiday Shorts’
Dec. 7-18 at Onstage Atlanta

‘Odysseo’
Dec. 7 – Jan. 8 at 8th and Spring Streets
www.cavalia.net

‘My Fair Lady’
Dec. 8-11 at Cobb Energy Centre
2800 Cobb Galleria Parkway
Marietta GA 30339
www.cobbenergycentre.org

‘The Book of Merman’
Dec. 9 – 10 at Actor’s Express
887 W. Marietta St. Suite J-107, Atlanta, GA 30318
www.actorsexpress.com

 

Top photo: Horizon Theatre’s ‘Santaland Diaries’ is such a gay hit that actor Harold Leaver appeared in character in the 2011 Atlanta Pride parade. (Photo via Facebook)

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