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‘The Gifts of the Magis’ at Theatrical Outfit

2012 December 12



Adrienne Reynolds (City Her) and Bernardine Mitchell (Willy); Photo: Josh Lamkin

Although there’s a slow drawn-out start to Theatrical Outfit’s “The Gifts of the Magi,” a musical based on O. Henry’s Classic short story “The Gift of the Magi,” just wait. It gets good.

The musical lasts less than 90 minutes with no intermission, and if the playwright were to have cut the first 10 minutes, which takes a long, long, long, long, long time to establish this is New York City, it’s the early 1900s and finding work is tough, the beginning of the show would have been better. But alas, although Mark St. St. Germain writes what seems to be pages of a boring monologue for the narrator, Willy (Bernardine Mitchell), this show is worth seeing because there are some dynamite performances.

The story revolves around a young newlywed couple, Della (Caroline Freedlund) and Jim (Nick Arapoglou), who have been crazy in love with each other since they were kids. Although they moved to New York City so Jim could rise in a career, the economic depression has prevented him from finding a job. Near eviction and with less than $2 to their name, they  both secretly do whatever they can to buy meaningful Christmas presents for each other.  While they scurry about New York, so does a cast of disparate characters.

Soapy (skillfully played by Glenn Rainey) whose character appears to be a total portrait of Otis from “The Andy Griffith Show,” ostensibly adds a bit of comic relief. But in truth, Soapy seems to be a stereotypical shell of a character.

Two of the cast members, City Him (Jeff McKerley) and City Her (Adrienne Reynolds), play numerous characters that will have you cracking up. Reynolds is as quick, funny and truthful an actor as Jonathan Winters, and like him, she can deftly change characters within seconds: a rich Southern Belle, a working-class Londoner, a wanton woman. She alone is worth the price of admission.

But, wait, there’s more! Bernardine Mitchell, one of Atlanta’s best-known and most respected singers, is a standout and soars on the final tune, “Gifts of Christmas.” OK, most of the music—and the choreography—in this show is not what I’d call good, or even fair, but this song, or at least the way she sings it, is excellent.  The song just before that, “The Same Girl” is also sung  beautifully by Freedlund.

Unfortunately, the real heart, meat and feeling of the story does not show up until the last quarter.  Bring a tissue. It’s there at the end: a heart-wrenching, bitter-sweet finale. Oh, yeah, that’s the part O. Henry wrote. Playwriting like this brings to mind the old adage: why mess with a good thing? Although St. Germain can’t improve upon the original story, these actors do a wonderful job of bringing this Christmas show to life.

Directed by Heidi Cline McKerley, music composed by Randy Courts, choreography by Jeff McKerly, and musical direction by S. Renee Clark, “The Gifts of the Magi,” runs through Dec. 23 at Theatrical Outfit.

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