“THE GIFTS OF CHRISTMAS” is Perfect Maine Musical Gem

Gifts of Christmas

December 2015

The Footlights Theater of Falmouth has kicked off its very ambitious Christmas season with a most delightful original Maine musical entitled The Gifts Of Christmas.

Inspired by the story and characters in O’Henry’s Gifts of the Magi, Director and Playwright Michael J. Tobin builds upon an already marvelous tale, adding even more marvelous layers of character development, a full musical component, perfectly cozy Maine elements and an expanded story line that flirts with breadth of emotions at “the most wonderful time of the year.” This only proves that Tobin’s fountain of writing talent, artistic vision and creative output continues to flow in grand fashion, not only to the benefit of local theater-goers and businesses but for the growth and development of a performing arts community that Tobin has fostered and nourished out of the Footlights barn.

The essence of the story is the same as Magi—James Dillingham Young and his wife Della are so much in love yet have no money to buy each other gifts for Christmas. Secretly, he pawns his prized possession of a gold watch (which doesn’t have a chain) in order to buy her some beautiful hair accessories. Meanwhile, she sells her golden locks of hair to buy him a gold chain for the watch. Oops.

Instead of 1905, Tobin’s adaptation takes place in the 1970s, with flashbacks to the 40s and earlier, where much of the sentimental holiday music Tobin uses was born—“You’re All I Want For Christmas” (Bing Crosby), “A Penny A Kiss, A Penny A Hug” (Andrew Sisters), “When Your Hair Has Turned To Silver” (Perry Como)—and several other Christmas standards cleverly engineered into revised story threads and gently served by Denise Calkins.

The Gifts Of Christmas is set in a small Maine town. The entire stage is filled with homey warm stuff that seamlessly make up various scenes—Jim and Della’s shabby apartment, Porter’s Book Store, Angel’s bench, Madame Sofronie’s shop, Noel’s Café, and Jameson’s Pawn Shop.

What really sells this show so righteously is the acting, the Footlights trademark of professional quality. Maura Gwyer and Mark Calkins ARE Della and Jim, perfectly paired as the young couple, giddy in love, making the very best of their humble beginnings, filled with wonder and enthusiasm for the future.

Here’s where things get really fun and interesting. In addition to Della and Jim, Tobin’s story includes 13 other characters, some from O’Henry’s tale, but most from powerful and sentimental flashbacks and tangents that wonderfully augment the story we all know and love. AND BEST OF ALL, these 13 characters are deliciously portrayed by FOUR people.

Cheryl Reynolds plays Angel, the omniscient sage/narrator and Noel, a spicy Southern belle matchmaker. Nancy Durgin plays Mary, a downstairs neighbor, Jim’s Mother, and Madame Sofronie. Cindy O’Neil plays Mrs. Dickens, Della’s Mother, Mrs. Jameson and Mrs. Porter. Stephen Wallace plays Mr. Porter, Della’s Father, Mr. Jameson and Doc Hall.

It is thoroughly entertaining to watch this stupendous ensemble cast pull out such amazing characters in quick fashion—some with completely opposite traits and attitudes—with such transparency and clarity. (Epiphany. I just defined the perfect ensemble cast: When every superlative and acknowledgement of one actor’s supreme talent and stage skills equally applies to every other cast member). These actors are the gifts of Christmas!

Without being a spoiler, I dare add that you (the reader) probably think you know the ending of this tale? Think again. You’re in for a compelling emotional twist of fate that will underscore the moral of the story that true unselfish love is far greater than possessions, and struggles of money should not dictate matters of the heart.

The Gifts Of Christmas runs until December 19th—Thursdays at 7 PM, Fridays at 7:30 PM, Saturday at 2:30 and 7:30 PM. For tickets, contact The Footlights Theater at 190 US Rte 1 in Falmouth at 207 747-5434 or visit www.TheFootlightsInFalmouth.com.

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–Louis Philippe

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