Music by Randy Courts
Lyrics by Randy Courts & Mark St. Germain
Direction by Mark E. Lococo
Music Direction by Elizabeth Dorn
Choreographed by Brenda Didier
Produced by Porchlight Music Theatre
At Stage 773, Chicago
Lack of focus and a muddled mixture of stories dooms new holiday show
Sometimes classic short stories simply don’t “sing,” that is, they don’t work as a musical. That surely is the case with The Gifts of the Magi now playing at Stage 773 produced by Porchlight Musical Theatre. There are several problems with director Mark E. Lococo’s production. First, the score by Randy Courts is bland and forgettable. Elizasbeth Doran’s music direction contains loud piano work that includes pounding keys as underscoring that distracts from much of the dialogue. A singer often got drowned-out by the piano despite all the singers being amplifies. Why? The Courts & St. Germain songs were a poor imitation of Stephen Sondheim tunes in style, rhythms, and sounds. The musical structure caused confusion begging the question: who’s show is this? Is it The City – Him (Gerald Richardson) and The City – Her (Heather Townsend) or Willy’s (Nate Lewellyn) show? It sure seemed that the narrator Willy Porter, a paperboy “owns” the show. Or possibly, it is Soapy Smith’s (Kevin McKillip) show since he is the main focus since we see him in many scenes and musical numbers?
But eventually we meet the married Dillingham’s—Jim (Jason Richards) and his wife Della (Chelsea Morgan) who are broke but in love as each sacrifices personal possessions in order to give a Christmas gift to the other. We never completely bond with them. If Soapy wasn’t played so over-the-top in a pushing-too-hard performance by the talented comic Kevin McKillip, we might empathize with his plight but the many attempts by Soapy to be arrested so he can live in jail becomes tedious and redundant. Soapy’s patter songs were sung so fast that they became unintelligible.
Next, The Gifts of the Magi uses a blend of two stories – the classic title story and “The Cop and the Anthem” both by O Henry. This diluted the show’s focus. The mood shifts, together with the pounding piano, made this 85 minute one act play much longer as it droned on. After Soapy tried several time to get arrested, I was tempted shout out to him: “Why don’t you just punch the cop?”
After all the distractions, the act of love by Jim and Della seemed as anticlimactic. The dull songs and the redundant Soapy scenes made this show neither a worthy holiday show nor a vibrant musical. This show simply tried too hard to do too much, proving that less, is, indeed more. Too bad O Henry’s short stories were not played as dramas. That might have worked but this piece just doesn’t sing.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: November 20, 2012
For ore info about The Gifts of the Magi page at theatreinchicago.com
At Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont, Ave, Chicago, IL, call 773-327-5252, www.stage773.com, tickets $39, Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 4 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, running time is 85 minutes without an intermission, through December 23, 2012