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The Gifts of the Magi at Porchlight Music Theatre

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Porchlight Music Theatre (see Resident companies). Book by Mark St. Germain. Music by Randy Courts. Lyrics by Courts and St. Germain. Dir. Mark E. Lococo. With ensemble cast. 1hr 30mins; no intermission.

Like the presents in the titular O.Henry short story, this slight musical holiday card by Mark St. Germain and Randy Courts is undoubtedly well-meant but somewhat lacking in utility.

The authors of the 1984 piece,receiving its Chicago premiere at Porchlight, draw from two Henry stories set in early-20th-century New York City: “The Gift of the Magi” and “The Cop and the Anthem.” The latter concerns an eccentric bum named Soapy Smith (Kevin McKillip), doing his all to get arrested so as to enjoy the holidays in the relative warmth of jail. Soapy’s story is contrasted with the better-known tale of the young married couple,Della and Jim, who give up their most prized possessions to buy gifts for each other.

Porchlight’s production fares best in the vignettes featuring Jim and Della, warmly portrayed by relative newcomers Chelsea Morgan and Jason Richards; Nate Lewellyn charms as a sort of magical-newsie narrator. But the usually dependable McKillip’s vaudeville interludes feel too big for the intimate space, and Courts’s score doesn’t provide many memorable hooks. Much like the Christmas windows at Marshall Field’s (sorry—Macy’s), Mark Lococo’s staging seems padded out with empty wrapping.

Time Out Chicago issue no. 405, Nov 29–Dec 5, 2012