The Gift of the Magi is my favorite holiday tale. While the surprise is lost whenever I read it again, I still remember the goosebumps I felt when I first discovered O. Henry’s story of a man and woman making significant personal sacrifices in order to buy each other Christmas gifts. And while New Ground Theatre’s production of the musical version of this classic narrative did not give me the same delightful chills, it did leave me with a warm feeling of holiday joy.
Director Lora Adams’ approach suggests the short story’s old-fashioned feel, with its gentle pace and overall chipper charm. Also serving as set designer, Adams’ stage is made up to look like an early 20th-Century apartment flanked by two storefronts, a bakery and a hair dresser’s/wig maker’s shop. With the apartment’s brick fireplace glowing, the Victorian tea-set and other home accoutrements evoke a traditional air, creating the classic Christmas feel of such other seasonal favorites as It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol.
Kelly Lohrenz, who plays Della, embodies the show’s quaint sweetness. Even in her saddest moments on stage, Lohrenz never drops the underlying hopefulness and joy in her delivery. She also handles the musical’s light opera-esque songs beautifully, with sweet sounds emanating from her sometimes adorably pouty, frequently smiling lips.
Tristan Tapscott’s Jim elicits chuckles from the audience by playing the humor in his role subtly. In one song, he sings a particular lyric over and over – one I cannot state specifically, as it would give away a key plot point for those unfamiliar with the tale – which, in itself, is funny. Tapscott, however, makes it even more so with simple changes in his facial expression, registering surprise, shock, and concern, among other emotions. His acting takes the repetitiveness out of his repetition of the single line, while adding fresh laughs to it.
Among the supporting cast, Patrick Gimm’s amiable Mr. Harris melted my heart with his rich, pleasing baritone, both while speaking and while singing, and his furtive glances to the shop across the street – making clear his heart’s desire – render his character lovable. Wendy Czekalski maintains an air of pride, yet softens any condescension or superiority in her Madame Sofronie with her bright smile and charming tone. Just as amicable is Zack Finn, whose Will is the quintessential young lad in many a traditional holiday yarn – friendly, well-behaved, polite, and respectful.
As was noted in the opening speech prior to Friday night’s performance, Adams refers to The Gift of the Magi as a Christmas bonbon, and I think that’s an appropriate phrase; at about 40 minutes in length, this show is a simple yet tasty holiday treat.
For tickets, call (563)326-7529 or visit NewGroundTheatre.org.