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Painesville Native Peter Ekstrom Returns with 'Gift of the Magi'

Known for his surprise endings, American short-story writer O. Henry amazed readers in 1905 with his now-beloved Christmas tale "The Gift of the Magi."

Fast forward to the early 1980s, when Painesville native Peter Ekstrom adapted the story of a young, married couple for the musical stage.  

"It's a Christmas story, but it's not heavy on religion, which is unique.  They talk about Christmas, and it's a gift giving [story.]  So that's what it is. Unselfish giving is what makes it appealing," he said.

"The Gift of the Magi" tells the story of Jim and Della Young, who are scraping by at Christmastime trying to buy each other a gift.

It's the heart-warming twist at the end of O. Henry's turn-of-the-century tale that gives it character.

"It's like a fable, and for Christmastime it brings you back to a gentler time, and always nostalgia is great.  It's an innocence that I don't think most of us have anymore.  I sure don't," he said.

This weekend Theatre in the Circle stages Ekstrom's show at Judson Manor, located in the place of Cleveland where many of Ekstrom's fondest memories as a child took place, University Circle.

"I came into Cleveland all the time with [Riverside] School groups to see arts things...the art museum was there and George Szell with [The Cleveland Orchestra,]" Ekstrom said.

So when Theatre in the Circle's Bill and Mark Corcoran reached out about a production in University Circle's Judson Manor Ekstrom was delighted.

"We talked and started an email relationship. Then they asked me to come, would I come and help them and I said sure," he said.

Ekstrom will host audience conversations after each performance of the musical.

The Gift of the Magi is at Theatre in the Circle at Judson Manor now through Sunday.


Mark Corcoran, Peter Ekstrom and Dan Polletta

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