Wednesday December 13th 2017

“The Gifts of The Magi”

The holiday season is here, and with it comes the Holiday shows. For the most part, we are asked to see the same shows over and over, often called Holiday “classics”, but each production, with a different cast, set, director and actors gives us a little different look, which is the beauty of live theater! This year, there is a new holiday musical. Think back t the  charming love story that was written by O. Henry, “The Gifts of The Magi” that shows the true meaning of Christmas, and add music, and you will have the new holiday production now onstage at Porchlight Musical Theatre. With a book by Mark St. Gemain and music and lyrics by Randy Courts with some lyrics by St. Germain, this 90 minutes of story telling with music is charming, but perhaps needs to be worked on just a little bit more. Directed by Mark E. Lococo on the intimate stage at Stage 773 with a solid, albeit small cast, what we have is a talented cast with some okay music, clever choreography ( Brenda Didier) and a delightful story, yet, it just doesn’t shake the holiday mistletoe as I had hoped it would.

Often, a new musical needs to have a varied audience so the writers can see what works and what doesn’t. This being new to Chicago, a true “theater city”, perhaps as the show runs, changes will be made and once done, this can become a holiday classic in the future. For those who are not familiar with the story, the time is 1905 and we are in New York. It is almost Christmas and our focus is on the Dillinhams, Jim ( charmingly played by Jason Richards) and his wife Della( the adorable Chelsea Morgan who has a wonderful voice). They were childhood sweethearts, and now married, living in the “big city” are going through rough times. Jim is trying to find work so they can survive and Della has taken on some small sewing jobs to keep them from starving.they have very little but their love. It is Christmas and neither is in a position to buy a gift for the other, but as the story unfolds, she decides that he needs to have a fob for the watch ( his grandfather’s) so he can always keep it with him and he decides that he wants to buy her some fancy hair combs for her beautiful hair. What happens is that he sells his watch to buy the combs and she sells her hair to buy him the fob, illustrating true sacrifice for the happiness of the one you love, truly the greatest gift that one can make to another. After all, the gifts the Magi gave to the Christ child were truly the gifts of love, so  O.Henry found a way to convey this feeling in a short story. A beautiful and loving tale!

This cast of six actors does the best that it can with the material.In addition to Mr.Richards and Ms Morgan,we have a narrator/storyteller, one Willy Porter, the newsboy ( deftly handled by Nate Lewellyn, who is fun to watch as he leaps from place to place, creating magical moments as he tells us the tale), the comic relief, Soapy Smith, the town bum ( a solid performance by Kevin McKillip, who in reality comes from another O.Henry story,”The Cop and The Anthem” about a bum who tries to get arrested in order to get off the streets for the winter)and a character called The City, which is played by a man and a woman (Gerald Richardson and Heather Townsend) who represent the multitudes of characters that make a city work; chef,waiter, cop, store clerk ,upper class citizens, receptionist- all the other people of the city. While this keeps the cast small and costs down, it is one of the features of the play that works well thanks to the talent of these two performers.

The set( William Boles) is quite simple with a few pieces that move in from scene to scene and a lamppost that is move about the stage throughout the 88 minutes. Simplicity is , in smaller theaters , a virtue a sit allows the flow of the action to move a  dthe focus for the audience to be on the words not the fixtures. There was a bit of a sound problem at the opener and I am not sure if it was lack of mikes or music that was to loud. The lighting(William C, Kirkham) and costumes (Bill Morey) were interesting. The props (Barbara Trinh) were varied as can be with some marvelous junk in the trash can for the “Bum Luck” number.  The musical numbers were written to keep the story going and flowing, but it seems as though they had some lyrics that didn’t fit properly. I could sense a bit of a Sondheim feeling with “The Restaurant” song where Soapy is attempting to get himself jailed for the winter and yet, he “cannot get himself arrested”! Della’s “The Same Girl” is a lovely ballad, with true feeling and Ms Morgan really shows her stuff with this number.

and if you do, please write to me and tell me how you saw it. Use albresloff@sbcglobal.net. “Gifts” will continue at Stage 773  located at 1225 West Belmont Avenue through December 23rd with performances as follows:

Fridays at 8 p.m.,Saturdays at 4 and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.

Tickets are $39 open seating and can be purchased at the box office, by phone at 773-777-9884 or online at www.porchlightmusicaltheatre.org

To see what others say, visit theatreinchicago.com ( on my home page), go to review round-up and click on The Gifts of The Magi”

 

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