Amidst all the big-budget holiday theatrical fare, I sincerely hope theatregoers will find time to enjoy this delightful offering at a tiny Midtown black-box theatre. It overflows with the true spirit of the season.
The show opens with a talented 12-member ensemble in a prelude of eight contemporary holiday songs, arranged and directed by Jeffrey Buchsbaum, ranging from the comic "Merry Christislamakwanzakah!" to the poignant "You Would Have Loved This." Next comes a genial, liquor-swilling O. Henry narrating his quintessential New York Christmas tale "The Gift of the Magi," set in 1905, about a poor working-class couple, very much in love, and the ironic sacrifices they make to buy each other presents. After intermission, it's Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famed 1889 story "The Blue Carbuncle," in which everybody's favorite sleuth, Sherlock Homes, and his sidekick, Dr. Watson, encounter several colorful cockney characters in their search for a jewel thief on Christmas Eve. Along the way, Watson helps the reserved, logic-obsessed Holmes discover the true meaning of the holiday.
Both tales have been cleverly adapted by Andrew Joffe and imaginatively staged by Kathleen Brant to include the hustle and bustle of a metropolitan Christmas, complete with jubilant carolers and a street-corner violinist (Ken Linsk). Touches like an invisible O. Henry (played with buoyant good humor by Richard Kent Green) helping his character Della on with her coat are wonderful. Jodie Bentley and Tyler Hollinger manage to avoid easy sentimentality and find the camaraderie and love, with an undercurrent of erotic passion, that bind O. Henry's famous romantic pair. Paul Singleton gives us brief glimpses of the emotional loneliness behind the pipe-chomping Holmes' piercing intellect and deftly illuminates the famous sleuth's unswerving moral passion, while Todd Butera creates an earthy, good-natured Watson who has great admiration and compassion for his longtime friend. Kate Andres, whose comic Jewish grandmother is a hoot in the prelude, gets laughs here too with her perennially exasperated housekeeper. Her hair-salon proprietor in The Gift of the Magi is also very good. And Michael Gnat, Bruce Barton, Kelly Campbell (who sings beautifully in the prelude), Tom DelPizzo, and especially Jon Lonoff — first as a shabby, down-on-his-luck intellectual and then as a boozy, loudmouthed pub owner — do excellent supporting work bringing late-19th-century London vividly alive.
Anna Gerdes' period costumes are exceptionally good for a low-budget production, as is Stefani Nicole Oxman's simple wooden-platform set backed by a glowing streetlamp and turn-of-the-century cityscapes.
Presented by JB Theatrical in association with WorkShop Theater Company at WorkShop Theater Company, 312 W. 36th St., 4th floor, NYC. Dec. 6-22. Tue.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 and 8 p.m. (212) 352-3101 or (866) 811-4111 or www.theatermania.com.