Has the hustle and bustle of the holiday season left you feeling a bit bah-humbug? Maybe all the commercialism has left you wondering what Christmas is all about? Footlights Theatre’s “The Gifts of Christmas,” based on O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi,” provides a heartwarming message about the true spirit of Christmas.

The musical, written and directed by Michael J. Tobin, nostalgically whisks viewers back to Maine in the 1940s, where newlyweds Della and Jim Dillingham Young are struggling to make ends meet on Jim’s meager salary as a bookstore clerk. The couple barely has enough money to pay the $8 rent for their shabby little apartment.

It’s their first Christmas Eve, and Della has only managed to scrimp and save $1.87. Unbeknownst to the other, they both decide to foolishly sell their most treasured processions – Della’s hair and Jim’s gold pocket watch – in order to buy each other a coveted Christmas gift.

The story is told through flashback, opening in the 1970s. Jim, who is mourning the loss of his beloved wife, returns to their apartment and discovers a box under the tabletop Christmas tree, left by their son, Henry. The box, which belonged to Della, contains two tortoiseshell hair combs, and a gold watch chain and fob.

As Jim’s mind wanders back in time to that first Christmas Eve, he transforms from a stooped-over old man into a vibrant man in his 20s.

Mark Calkins is enjoyably cast as Jim, portraying the character throughout time. There is a striking contrast between his aged character and the dumbstruck young man who instantly falls in love with the ravishing Della, played by Maura Gwyer. His new-father hysterics are an absolute riot when Della goes into labor on the couple’s second Christmas Eve.

Gwyer exudes a warmth and unquenchable enthusiasm that is perfect for Della. And her ringing operatic vocals provide a storybook quality to the endearing tale.

Tobin has broadened on O. Henry’s short story, weaving in a series of well-known holiday songs that, combined with the charming set, provide a festive mood for the production. He has also added a cast of colorful characters who offer an enhancing backstory for the previously one-dimensional characters.

Cheryl Reynolds provides cohesiveness to the tale as the couple’s guardian angel, narrating scenes. And she provides nonstop laughter as the local diner owner, Noel.

The supporting cast members double in a variety of roles, highlighting the stark differences between characters such as Della’s disapproving parents and Mr. and Mrs. Jameson, who own the pawnshop where Jim sells his watch. Both couples are played by Cindy O’Neil and Stephen Wallace, but are almost unrecognizable as the same actors.

Nancy Durgin is a delight, rounding out the cast as Mary, Jim’s mother and the unforgettable Madame Sofronie.

“The Gifts of Christmas” is filled with warmth and valuable lessons to keep in mind during this holiday season. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the commercialism of Christmas, but it’s important to remember that Christmas doesn’t come in a store. As Della and Jim discovered the hard way, love is the true gift.

April Boyle is a freelance writer from Casco. She can be contacted at:

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