In this age of materialism it is reassuring to know that one thing will always ring true. "It is greater to give than to receive." And so it is made poignantly evident in the Main Street Theatre's charming holiday production of, "The Gifts of the Magi". Based on two of O. Henry's classic short stories, "The Gift of the Magi" and "The Cop and the Anthem", this one act musical was originally produced at the Lamb's Theatre Club in 1984 with a delightful book and clever lyrics by Mark St. Germain and a score by Randy Court (who also takes credit for the lyrics.).
The two stories take place in New York City of 1904 and are well interwoven. The authors have combined the comedy inherent in "The Cop and the Anthem" (a tale in which Soapy Smith, a ne'er do well, tries unsuccessfully to get arrested in order to spend the holidays in a nice warm jail cell with three squares a day.) with the moving, "The Gift of the Magi", where a poor, struggling newlywed couple mutually sacrifice their most precious possessions in order to buy each other a Christmas present.
Director, Jeremy Randall, has expanded this production into a short two act musical by including several Christmas carols. The additions are well placed and compliment the book. When leading lady, Della doesn't have enough money and must haggle with the butcher, she sings a melancholy, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas", after his departure to great effect. Being too poor to buy Christmas decorations or a proper tree, Jim and Della sing, "Silver and Gold" as they hang silverware on their tiny little discarded tree. And Act II opens with a medley of traditional Christmas carols ending with a candle lit, "Silent Night". The upside of these additions is that it makes this holiday show even more festive. The downside is that these songs are so good musically they point out the shortcomings of the rest of the score, which is not very melodic.
The costumes by Sue Nester are simple but effective and denote the period. The set gives me mixed messages, as the flats and furniture are rather nicely realistic while the backdrop is a cartoonish rendering of clouds and sky. But overall this is a lovely little production very ably accompanied by two keyboardists, one of them Mr. Randall who also acts as Musical Director.
Playing Della is Valerie A. Hill, a striking brunette who possesses a prodigious and clear soprano that more than fills the small theatre. The pretty Samantha Birchett, a sweet, high soprano, sings and acts well in her role as City Her (a character which is the essence of New York City) and in many other character parts. Jason Guy employs versatility as City Him, the waiter of a French restaurant and myriad other character parts. Justin Stratton gets to show off his glorious voice and warm persona in the role of Willy, the newsboy, who serves as the narrator of the piece. And Larry Harris is extremely funny and endearing as hapless Soapy Smith, the man who would be in jail if only he could commit a good enough crime.
One of our greatest American writers, O. Henry goes right to the heart of Christmas in these stories and this modest production does exactly the same thing.
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