It is festive Christmas time in 1905. A group of carolers sing praises of the season, explaining the custom of giving gifts and who the Magi were. (“Gift of the Magi”)
This segues to reveal a busy New York street bustling with shoppers. Della Young, a stunning young woman, strolls along, looking in store windows, lamenting that she has but $1.87 to spend on a gift for her husband, Jim, this year. Jim does likewise, wistfully knowing that the items in the stores that he would love to buy for Della are beyond his financial reach. (“Christmas Cheer”)
Later that day in their modest apartment, Jim and Della decorate a small Christmas tree and chat about their holiday plans. Money is so scarce this year that they must rely on friends to help them put together their Christmas dinner party. This is their fist Christmas together after all and they want it to be special. Jim checks his watch, a most precious family heirloom, and Della notes that the strap is worn. She fastens a string to make sure Jim doesn’t lose his prize possession. When Della’s hair falls loose from her scarf, Jim implores her to leave it down. She possesses the most beautiful long tresses imaginable and her husband marvels at them. Their affection for each other is evident. As they decorate their scraggly tree, they express their disappointment that they can’t give each other special gifts. (“If Only Money Grew On Christmas Trees”)
Della visits her best girlfriend, Maddy, who works at Hadley’s Five and Ten. Della asks her former boss, Mr. Hunnicutt, if she can work part time during the holidays to earn some money for Christmas gifts this year. She relates that Jim’s hours at his bank job have been cut, and money are tight for the young couple. Mr. Hunnicutt, who lusts after the beautiful Della, offers her a job at night stocking shelves, which she refuses.
At Jim’s place of business, the Bank of New York, Jim and friend/coworker, William, are working hard, when William’s wife, Betsy, and his ill-behaved children, Annabelle and Nester, cause a ruckus as they enter the bank. Betsy asks her husband for more shopping money as the children run amok and disrupt the professional atmosphere of the bank. William is admonished by his nasty boss, Mr. Porter. After his family leaves, William fanaticizes about pocketing the bank’s riches and stealing off to some tropical island to live like a king. Jim joins in on the fantasy, and the two men get lost in the tropical dream, complete with the appearance of hula girls. (“King of the Isle”) Mr. Porter brings the men back to reality when he asks Jim to lock up the bank that night.
Meanwhile, Maddy comes home to an empty apartment, filled with loneliness. (“Dinner For One”) While Mr. Porter hurries down the street, he bumps into Della who is carrying a basket of cranberries for her holiday dinner. The cranberries spill and Mr. Porter stoops to help her pick them up. The two recognize each other and talk briefly as Mr. Porter wipes his hands. Della notices that the cranberries have stained Mr. Porter’s handkerchief. She apologizes, but he says he has many more and hurries off on his way. Della lingers and peers longingly, into a store window. Mr. Hunnicutt sees Della and approaches her. He reiterates his offer for Della to help him stock the store, this time, before it opens. He gifts Della some money to go to the beauty shop to fix herself up and to meet him at the store in the morning. He offers to pay her handsomely for her services. (“I’ll Scratch Your Back”) After he leaves, Della ponders Hunnicutt’s offer, while Jim at the bank, stares at the bills he is counting, seduced by the power and possibilities the money could bring him. (“The Hardest Thing”)
The next day, Christmas Eve, the street is still bustling, but the mood of the shoppers has shifted. Instead of everyone being happy with Christmas cheer, people are rushing about, harried with last-minute shopping, cranky and tired from the demands of the holiday. (“Christmas Jeer”) Inside the Bank of New York, Jim enters in a cheerful mood. He shares with William that he has found the perfect, lavish gift for Della. William is dumbfounded. Then two police officers emerge from Mr. Porter’s office and arrest Jim for stealing money from the bank on the previous evening.
Della is startled at her apartment by the police officers who have come to inform her of Jim’s arrest and question her about her husband’s behavior lately. Della is bewildered and heartbroken.
William and Betsy tell their children that the Christmas party at Jim and Della’s home has been cancelled. The inquisitive kids ask all kinds of questions. (“Why”) Jim and Della, now apart from each other, bemoan their situation. (“Dinner For One Reprise”)
Back at Hadley’s Five and Ten, Della rushes in to seek support and solace from Maddy. Neither woman feels the situation adds up, so they decide to review the details of the crime. They look through the newspaper and re-read the information printed about the theft, noting that a bloody handkerchief was found at the scene. Suddenly, Della has a revelation. Cranberries!
Della rushes to the police station and recounts her meeting with Mr. Porter on the street the previous evening. She explains that Mr. Porter had stained his handkerchief with cranberries and, she believes, had dropped it in the vault accidentally when he had returned to the bank after Jim had locked up. It was Mr. Porter, not Jim, who had made off with the money. (“Cranberries”)
At Jim and Della’s apartment, the young couple is ecstatic to be reunited after Jim’s exoneration of the bank robbery. They cannot wait to exchange gifts before their friends arrive for their Christmas party and tear open their presents from each other simultaneously. Della excitedly holds up spectacular jeweled hair combs and Jim beams as he holds up a striking platinum watch chain. The two suddenly stop while the realization of the situation hits them. Della slowly removes her hat. Her long hair is gone, replaced by a boyish head of tight curls. At the same moment, Jim pulls his make-shift watch chain from his pocket. His watch is no longer on it. Della has sold her hair to buy Jim the chain, and Jim has pawned his watch to buy Della combs for her long hair. Their tears turn to laughter as they realize the irony of the situation. What really matters is not their expensive gifts but their selfless love for each other. (“Gifts You Give Me Everyday”)
Soon after, their friends arrive, and the spirit of the holiday and joy of togetherness permeates the air. They are giving the gift of love, and that is the greatest gift of all. “(The Greatest Gift Of All”)
©2009 Beverly Bremers & Faith Grant (949) 874-0616
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