The Dayton Theatre Guild provides an absolutely charming production of Randy Courts and Mark St. Germain’s 1984 off-Broadway musical “The Gifts of the Magi.”
Set in New York City circa 1905 and based on O. Henry’s short stories “The Gift of the Magi” and “The Cop and the Anthem,” the musical, delicately directed with precision by Kathy Mola, nicely balances two engaging, straightforward tales. The primary story chronicles the love and hardships of Jim and Della Dillingham, a sweet couple struggling to make ends meet as Christmas approaches. In order to provide each other with a present, both make a great sacrifice, which ultimately reflects the spirit of the biblical example set by the Magi. The secondary, more consistently lighthearted account involves Soapy Smith, a gallantly good-natured bum whose only desire is to be arrested in order to obtain food and shelter during the holidays. The wonderfully meaningful, life-affirming journeys of Jim, Della and Soapy, combining rewarding themes of faith, family, forgiveness, friendship and goodwill as narrated/guided by amiable newsboy Willy Porter, epitomize the true significance of the season.
In addition to grasping the harmonic challenges within the tuneful score, particularly accented with beguiling ballads, Mola’s cohesive cast offer highly enjoyable portrayals. Shawn Hooks and Meagan Kuchan, making their Guild debuts, are very compatible as the Dillinghams. The mature Hooks, given a poignant moment of reflection in “How Much to Buy My Dream,” doesn’t diminish Jim’s serious frustration of being unemployed, a topical element deeply felt today as it did when the “Magi” story was first published in 1903. The gentle Kuchan delivers her most touching performance to date as the devoted, encouraging Della. Some of her best scenes stem from Della reminding Jim that money isn’t the foundation of a home and pondering life with a different hairstyle in “The Same Girl.” As Soapy, who quips at one point that he’s been “cursed with good fortune,” the delightful Dave Nickel treads carefully in terms of the music, but his humorous character choices are endearingly sound. Versatile partners Jared Mola (in his local musical theater debut) and Kelli Locker terrifically embody different personalities and disguises as The City: Him and The City: Her. As Willy, Bobby Mitchum is so effortlessly excellent in his Guild debut I’m tempted to brand this production as simply “Bobby Mitchum: Live at the Guild.” Willy isn’t a flashy or grueling role, but surely requires a considerably strong tenor with a thoroughly appealing ability to connect with the audience. The magnetic Mitchum, blessed with a voice that soars while containing enormous warmth, unquestionably fits the bill right at the outset leading a gorgeous rendition of the alluring title song, one of many numbers propelled with beautiful flourishes courtesy of music director Luke Williams.
In addition, costumer Linda Sellers supplies striking period attire. Blake Senseman is responsible for an equally attractive set evoking turn of the century New York. Courtney Wheeler’s choreography is apt and colorful, specifically “Christmas is to Blame.” Nick Vanderpool’s suitable lighting design and Deirdre Bray Root’s fine properties are also noteworthy components of this utterly heartwarming treat.
“The Gifts of the Magi” continues through Dec. 8 at the Dayton Theatre Guild, 430 Wayne Ave., Dayton. Performances are Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 5 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Act 1: 45 minutes; Act 2: 40 minutes. Tickets are $18 for adults, $16 for seniors and $11 for students. For tickets or more information, call (937) 278-5993 or visit online at www.daytontheatreguild.org.