Theater Review: A musical adaptation of O. Henry’s ‘The Gift of the Magi’

Alex Smith and Gary Wingert in “The Gifts of the Magi.” (Photo by John Cobb)
Alex Smith and Gary Wingert in “The Gifts of the Magi.” (Photo by John Cobb)

By Edith McCauley
Theater Critic

Artists’ Ensemble’s holiday production of The Gifts of the Magi lends a special magic to another traditional story. O. Henry’s too-brief career ended in 1910, but before his early death, he had published more than 600 short stories. Randy Courts and Mark St. Germain’s musical adaptation integrates the spirit of Christmas in a new way.

Director Richard Raether again has chosen an outstanding cast. Narrator Willy Porter, played by Adam Molloy, is a graduate of the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University, and he has performed throughout the area. Carolyn Cadigan and John Chase play multiple roles, and a few minimal costume changes give their characters great diversity.

Katie Kuehner, a Rockford University musical theater major last seen in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, pairs with another Rockford University student and Equity Member candidate, Alex Smith, to tell us the story of two sweethearts with little money determined to show their love by sacrificing precious possessions.

And returning for another comedic role is Gary Wingert. His most recent role in Mary Zimmerman’s The White Snake at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, N.J., continues his association with Tony-winning Zimmerman and the Lookingglass Theatre. Appearing in theaters throughout the Chicago area, he is always a welcome addition to productions here. As Soapy Smith, a homeless guy down on his luck, his ability to recreate every aspect of this jaunty, sly survivor is perfect. His tribute to Rod MacDonald in his bio is most touching.

The musical numbers add a special touch to the entire production, and the voices couldn’t be better. The Gifts of the Magi is performed without an intermission, which gives it great continuity. It plays through Dec. 22 at the Cheek Theatre at Rockford University. Tickets can be purchased online at or by calling the box office at (815) 394-5004. Great entertainment!

From the Dec. 18-24, 2013, issue

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