Most of us are familiar with O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi” and, given the large number of adaptations and parodies it has spawned, it’s possible that some of us are a little sick of it. Nevertheless, a musical version now playing at the Tabard Theatre Company proves that this classic parable of love and generosity can be as fresh and enjoyable as it ever was.

O. Henry is famous for his ironic, playful stories with their witty depictions of average folk, especially New Yorkers, for whom he had great affinity. The Gifts of the Magi, a musical created in the 1980s by Randy Courts and Mark St. Germain, is actually based on two of these stories. It draws most prominently from the tale of Jim and Della (Matt DeMeritt and Charlotte Self, respectively), a young couple living in a tiny New York flat. They have very little money, but are deeply in love, and with Christmas approaching each wants to buy the other a special present. Almost everyone knows how this situation plays out, but for the sake of the few who might not, I won’t say any more about it.

While Jim is searching for work, a bum named Soapy (Kurt Gravenhorst), whose “blood turns blue at the slightest passing mention of a job,” is desperately trying to get arrested and thrown in jail—a holiday vacation from the city streets. This subplot, taken from O. Henry’s short story “The Cop and the Anthem,” brings a large dose of humor that complements the main plot nicely.
Our guide for the evening is Willy (Kevin Cornelius), a newsboy narrator who seems to know everyone on the streets of New York. Charles Woodson Parker and Irene Trapp play all the minor characters, including a couple of avaricious shopkeepers. Their musical number “Greed,” in which the two descend from the stage and get in the audience’s faces, even snatching a sip from one patron’s wine glass, is a high point. Another nice touch is the group of caroling children who provide bookend songs for the play and also sing outside the theater before the show starts.

Tabard’s The Gifts of the Magi fares very well in the intimate confines of the Theatre on San Pedro Square, and like the stories it was inspired by, it is warm, funny and sentimental in the very best sense of the word.

The Gifts of The Magi
Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 3 and 8pm, Sunday at 2pm; runs thru Dec 19
Theatre on San Pedro Square, San Jose
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