American Players Theatre’s New Treatment Of O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi”!

Yes, that old chestnut! The O. Henry classic that every English teacher across America used to teach us about irony! This isn’t the telling that you will remember from your sophomore year in high school. But we won’t need spoiler alerts either. This adaptation by James DeVita and Josh Schmidt brings us new light and life in their telling through story and song (and dance)! So sit back and relax…and yes this is a musical!

We open in Della and Jim’s apartment…a simply furnished tenement apartment which is the locus of the play and all of the drama and song will work around it. Scenic designer Madelyn Yee has given us a complex little environment, in the APT’s Touchstone Theatre, that serves as not only home, but brings the ambiance of the neighborhood to bear. And there is just enough space to support the real world interactions outside their home and a secure platform for the two musicians who will provide the evening’s accompaniment for our actors!

cellist Alicia Storin and musician/busker Hilary Caldwell; photo by Liz Lauren and courtesy of the American Players Theatre

So first we meet our cellist and in the first scene our violist…and then the other character that we weren’t quite expecting, Brian Mani as O. Henry! And these three, under director Malkia Stampley, deftly set the mood, set the stage, set the time. And then!

Marcus Truschinski as Jim, Kelsey Brennan as Della; photo by Liz Lauren and courtesy of American Players Theatre

We meet Della, played by Kelsey Brennan, and Jim, played by Marcus Truschinski, a young couple thoroughly saturated in their love for each other. They bring these characters to a fresh and believable life and you never doubt their devotion to one another. And the songs and dance pieces bring this all to life; front and center. Yes, this is far more fun than anyone would have anticipated if only remembering our old lessons.

front and center: Brian Mani as O. Henry, with Marcus Truschinski as Jim (left) and Kelsey Brennan as Della; photo by Liz Lauren and courtesy of American Players Theatre

And who exactly is O. Henry? Well in this play he starts out as the narrator but becomes a stage director, interlocutor, butcher, tailor, etc, etc, etc. With a doff of a hat or the addition of an apron, Mr. Mani becomes any and every other character that Della and Jim meet along this journey…all without ever really surrendering his persona as O. Henry. Deftly done Mr. Mani!

But despite all the nuance and fleshing out that Mr. DeVita and Mr. Schmidt have provided for our story, they can not change how the story ends. So yes, we come to that fateful Christmas Eve filled with eager anticipation by both Della and Jim until the reality of life comes crashing in. So there will still be that lump in your throat and a possible tear in your eye…but love will win out! Again!

by The cast of The Gift of the Magi; photo by Liz Lauren and courtesy of the American Players Theatre

Let earth receive her king…

The Gift of the Magi is playing from now until December 19, 2021 at the American Players Theater Touchstone Theatre in Spring Green Wisconsin. Or you can enjoy it like I did via their streaming service, APT at Home: Click here for details!

One Reply to “American Players Theatre’s New Treatment Of O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi”!”

  1. Oddly enough, I am not the world’s biggest lover of musicals, but I found this musical version of The Gift of the Magi completely entrancing. All the vocalists and musicians did a marvelous job with the tonally challenging melodies and created beautiful harmonies, as well! I’m so in awe of these multi-talented, creative individuals and feel so lucky to be able to see and hear (and ponder for days afterward) their wonderful performances!

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