During the holidays, it can be easy to forget the true meanings behind the Christmas season amidst the hustle and bustle fighting the crowds at the mall. But, a show like Theatrical Outfit’s The Gifts of the Magi, written by Mark St. Germain with music by Randy Courts, reminds us that love can be the best gift anyone can give.
Featuring a complex score, the musical, based on O. Henry’s short story “The Gift of the Magi,” seems more like Sondheim than the traditional seasonal sounds. While the music is unfamiliar, the story itself isn’t since it is anthologized in literature text books across the country. In the story, a young married couple (Nick Arapoglou and Caroline Freedlund) struggle with finances during the Christmas season. Determined to buy one another a gift, each sacrifices something in order to buy a gift, resulting in an ironic ending.
Since the story of the couple is too short to create a full-length musical, the production also includes the side narrative of a homeless man’s (Glenn Rainey) struggles to get arrested for Christmas. A narrator of sorts (Bernardine Mitchell) weaves the two tales together. Aiding her are two “towns people” (Jeff McKerley and Adrienne Reynolds), who perform multiple roles as City Him and City Her.
As the young couple, Arapoglou and Freedlund provide strong performances, and Rainey entertains as Soapy. Both Reynolds and McKerley show off their comedy chops in the amusing roles they play, which feature some of the smartest, funniest lines in the show.
But, it is Mitchell that truly holds the show together with her phenomenal performance. Her soaring vocals and warm, mysterious demeanor give the show a charming quality that would otherwise not exist if the role was cast traditionally as a newsboy.
Musically, the show is beautiful. Under the musical direction of S. Renee Clark, the cast sings with just a piano accompaniment, which gives the show a more intimate feel. However, the book of the show, while wonderfully acted by the cast, doesn’t quite match the grandeur of the score, especially the side story, which detracts from the main characters and their conflict.
In true holiday fashion, snow fills the stage during the uplifting finale and highlights set designer Tommy Cox’s streetscape, which includes holiday decorated light poles against the backdrop of the city. The snow, together with the musical number, provides a picturesque ending to this holiday musical.
Directed by Heidi Cline McKerley, The Gifts of the Magi plays Theatrical Outfit through December 23, 2012 at The Balzer Theater at Herren’s. For tickets and more information, please visit the theater’s website. The show runs ninety minutes without an intermission.
– Kenny Norton