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November 28, 2006 > New Magi, a questionable gift

New Magi, a questionable gift

by Julie Grabowski

O. Henry’s classic story of poor young lovers wanting to give each other a wonderful gift for Christmas gets a remarkable holiday dressing up in Douglas Morrisson Theatre’s musical production “The Gifts of the Magi.” The story expands greatly beyond its original four pages of text, and is joined by characters from another Henry short story, “The Cop and the Anthem” as well as a newsboy narrator and the personification of New York City in two actors who also play the city’s inhabitants.

The heart of the story is the selfless act of giving in love and sacrifice, with Dillingham’s dilemma of how to afford special gifts as the central focus. But in this re-creation the gifts are practically an afterthought and carry little weight. Jim and Della must contend with joblessness, the hard, unrelenting city, and societal greed while counting pennies and dodging the landlord. The character and musical additions, while clever and entertaining, detract from the Dillinghams instead of enhancing them. The songs “Christmas To Blame,” “The Restaurant,” and “Greed” comprise their own little mini shows and do nothing to serve the story. However, Jim and Della’s duet in “Once More” perfectly captures the spirit of the story as they declare they don’t need things, but only to hear another “I love you.” The charm and moving simplicity of the original tale is lost in the additions and alterations, and would play better if left to its sparser form.

There is no fault to be found in the individual parts of the production; the actors are talented and enthusiastic; the impressive Jordan Aragon as Willy the newsboy, the humorously versatile Elmer Strasser as The City-Him, and his bubbly female counterpart The City-Her played by Mary Moore dominate the play. The Dillinghams, portrayed by Danny Broome and Anna Cook, while enjoyable, seem overshadowed by the surrounding characters. Jay Clifton is the well-spoken “permanently unfinanced” Soapy Smith aiming for a comfortable vacation in a prison cell, and contributes the majority of the evening’s humor.

Sponged earthy colors of the cityscape and three towering main buildings with their softly lighted windows created by Kim Tolman are lovely and perfectly suited for the story. Two keyboards and a base provided a wonderful live orchestration under the direction of Michael Strelo-Smith, and the musical score by Randy Counts and Mark St. Germain is solid and pleasing.

However, the attractive parts of the production don’t really form a unified successful whole. I wanted to be moved, and left the theatre still wanting. For those new to the story or generously accepting of creative reconstruction, “The Gifts of the Magi” should prove pleasing. But if you’re an unapologetic purist, you’ll be better satisfied curling up on the couch with the original “uneventful chronicle” in all its brief glory.

Performances run November 30-December 10, Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m.; Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Ticket prices are $22 for adults, $18 for seniors 50 and over, and $16 for students 18 and over with I.D; $14 for juniors 18 and under. For tickets or more information call (510) 881-6777 Tuesday through Friday from 12:30 to 5:30 p.m. or visit The box office opens one hour before showtime.

The Gifts of the Magi
November 30-December 10
Douglas Morrisson Theatre
22311 North Third Street, Hayward
(510) 881-6777

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