The 2000-word classic The Gift Of The Magi might well make a charming twenty-minute one-act musical. Add to it over a dozen characters (none of whom would ever have entered O’Henry’s mind) and a dozen songs (only a couple of which might inspire a second listen), and despite the best efforts of director, choreographer, musical director, and cast, what you end up with is The Gift Of The Magi The Musical.
Rarely has this reviewer found two thirty-five minute acts so endless.
Book writer Faith Grant pads O’Henry with a) a spinster cashier (Farley Cadena) who bemoans yet another “Dinner For One”; b) a bank employee (Alex Camp) who fantasizes about the Hawaiian hula girls he’d be surrounded by as “King Of The Isle”; c) a wife (Branda Lock) who can’t seem to stay within her holiday budget and whose tiny tots (Kai Nuki and Scarlet Spencer) persist in asking “Why?”; d) a bank owner (Kenneth Steven Bernfield) with fingers all sticky from “Cranberries”; e) assorted policemen, carolers, beggars, and those aforementioned hula dancers; and cringe-worthiest of all, f) an icky mink-coat-wearing sexual predator of a boss (John Content) who comes on to his nubile young female employee with a salacious “I’ll Scratch Your Back.” And there are children in the house?
Hidden amongst this multitude of Gift Of The Magi newbies are O’Henry’s own Jim (Kristian Rasmussen), he of the cherished pocket watch, and Della (Natalie MacDonald), she of the hair so rippling, it shone, in O’Henry’s own words, “like a cascade of brown waters.”
Composer-lyricist writer Beverly Bremers has the couple joining holiday shoppers to sing of “Christmas Cheer,” wondering what their lives would be like “If Money Grew On Trees,” and celebrating “Gifts You Give Me Each Day.”
Oh, and the writers have the police arresting Jim for bank robbery. (The sound you hear is O’Henry turning over in his grave.)
Fortunately, The Gift Of The Magi ’s ironic ending survives intact.
Bremers’ melodies are sometimes catchy, her lyrics only occasionally deft. Still, the show-closing “The Greatest Gift Of All” could become a holiday standard given the right recording artist.
Cast members perform with enthusiasm, the ensemble completed by Brooke Bateman, Crystal Bateman, Ken Johnson, Michael B. Levin, Emily Rose Lezin, and Jessica Stone, and there are some lovely voices among them.
Director Barry Pearl and choreographer Kay Cole have done great work before, but seem stymied here. Only music director/arranger Wayne Moore escapes unscathed.
Best among production design elements are Natalya Shahinyan’s colorful period costumes. Rei Yamamoto’s nifty scenic design gives us multiple locales. Eric Babb’s multiple props are lit by Shelly Callahan, with sound design by Christopher Barton. Della’s cascading locks must be seen to be (not) believed.
Victoria Elizabeth Chediak is production stage manager. Albert Woo is assistant stage manager.
Clearly a lot of love and hard work has gone into bringing The Gift Of The Magi The Musical to the stage. If only that love and hard work had paid off, they might have given us a gift worth opening.
Hillcrest Center For The Arts, 403 W Hillcrest Dr, Thousand Oaks.
December 19, 2014