Chemainus production of The Gifts of the Magi ‘guaranteed to entertain’

Nick Bekolay reviews The Gifts of the Magi, which is playing from now until Jan. 4 at the Chemainus Theatre Festival.

The Chemainus Theatre Festival’s production of The Gifts of the Magi is guaranteed to entertain, even if you’re a grinch of sorts.

Based on a familiar love story written by O. Henry, Mark St. Germain’s musical explores the true meaning of a one-time religious holiday struggling with a crisis of identity.

Kaylee Harwood and Jesse Martyn delivered convincing performances as Della and Jim Young, childhood sweethearts struggling to make ends meet after relocating to the Big Apple from small-town America. Their arguments come off as slightly wooden and contrived at times, but Harwood and Martyn leave you with the impression that their characters are very much in love.

Colin Sheen shined as Willy, the newsboy narrator with a knack for freezing time as he steps into and out of the storyline, and Sarah Carlé, “City Her,” and Robert Clarke, “City Him,” added a touch of flare to every character they portrayed.

Vancouver native Jeff Hyslop stole the show as Soapy, an eloquent yet marginalized misanthrope who repeatedly attempts and fails to have himself locked up as a means of avoiding New York’s bitterly cold winter. In his threadbare suit —  courtesy of costume designer Norma Bowen’s attention to detail one assumes — a bearded and scruffy Hyslop portrays the idiosyncratic bum brilliantly, topping up Soapy’s repertoire of quirky mannerisms by routinely hitching his thumbs in his vest and scratching at his weeks-old beard. Soapy’s antics provide a welcome comedic touch to the play, and his views on life serve up a modicum of social commentary as he counsels Jim to abandon his “prejudicial misapprehensions” and run away with him to warmer climes.

Aside from a few lines of song that drifted slightly off key, The Gifts of the Magi was a stellar production. Musical director and pianist Brad L’écuyer, percussionist Alicia Murray and cellist Jordie Robertson delivered an excellent musical backdrop for the play. Their accompaniment was so flawlessly performed, an inexperienced theatregoer might have easily mistaken it for a recording.

Credit goes to scenery designer Kevin McAllister, too. McAllister crafted a set that’s an authentic slice of 1920s-era New York using little more than an image of the Flatiron Building and a stage designed as a manhole cover stamped with the label J.B. and J.M. Cornell, one of the Big Apple’s largest employers at the turn of the 20th century.

Equal credit is due to the remainder of the production staff for their contributions to a performance worth recommending to friends and family alike.

The Gifts of the Magi runs until Jan. 4. Performances begin at 7:30 p.m. on Sundays, Wednesdays and Thursdays and at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Matinees are scheduled for 2 p.m. on Sundays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Tickets can be purchased online or by phone at 1-800-565-7738.

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