Shopping for the perfect holiday gift is a dying art. For many, myself included at times, it’s simply a matter of looking up someone’s online wishlist and clicking “one click purchase,” with $3.99 extra for wrapping. Done.
But for Jim and Della, gift giving is a matter of significant sacrifice and meaning. Both terribly strapped with money after befalling a string of bad luck, they sell their most prized possession (Jim, his watch, Della, her hair) to get a gift they think their loved one will cherish.
I think you know the rest. After all, O. Henry’s tale, The Gifts of the Magi, has proven a classic cautionary tale of thankfulness and selflessness. Randy Courts (music and lyrics) and Mark St. Germain (book and lyrics) have taken this tale and created a spinning shining bauble of a musical that distracts with its beauty … on occasion.
The issue is there’s no great dilemma for Jim (Jason Richards) and Della (the clear-voiced Chelsea Morgan). You get the sense that they’ll be ok regardless of if Jim finds a job or not. Worst case, they move back home and out of the soul-sucking New York City. No one’s life is on the line. They’re both good people, just in a stressful situation. We can all relate. So, Courts and Germain fill the first hour of this 90 minute musical with story-stealing side characters, including Kevin McKillip as a vaudevillian busker/bum who gets a few wordy, if tuneless, numbers to puff up the storytelling.
But there are real moments of beauty, such as Jim’s introspective ballad, “How Much to Buy My Dream,” delivered with great poignancy by Richards. In fact, the show leans almost too heavily on introspective ballads, regardless of how well structured they are.
Porchlight, under director Mark E. Lococo, presents a clean, polished production featuring excellent musicianship, led by music director Elizabeth Doran on piano and Christina Foster skillfully navigating a whole slew of percussion instruments to add color to the lilting score. Unfortunately, the venue at Stage 773 has always proved horrible acoustic-wise, and this show suffers as well. From my seat far stage right, many lyrics got gobbled up in the black box space.
While I longed for a bit more meat to this lightweight holiday musical, my soul was sufficiently warmed, reminding me of the purpose of the holiday. However, I still do like my online shopping. Thankfully, however, I’ve no hair to sell.
“The Gifts of the Magi” plays through December 23 at Stage 773. More info here >;;