Monday, February 26, 2024

If You Ask Me: “Christmas in Connecticut”

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Goodspeed Opera House through December 30th

Goodspeed Premieres “Christmas in Connecticut”

By Tom Holehan
Connecticut Critics Circle

Popular as a 1945 Hollywood film starring Barbara Stanwyck, “Christmas in Connecticut” has now been given the musical theatre treatment in a world premiere production at the Goodspeed Opera House. Regional theatres love having an annual “Christmas cash cow” and how many times can you offer “A Christmas Carol”? This defiantly retro musical will probably please those seeking a dose of the holiday spirit. For the rest of us, a feeling of “Bah! Humbug!” may settle in.

With a score by Jason Howland (music) and Amanda Yesnowitz (lyrics) and book by Patrick Pacheco and Erik Forrest Jackson, “Christmas in Connecticut” keeps its time period firmly in 1943-44 while making contemporary nods here and there that sometimes seem tonally odd. A joke about pit bulls, a reference to sex with sheep and the introduction of a gay relationship may stop you in your tracks among all the onstage nostalgia.

At its core is the story of an independent young Idaho girl arriving in New York City to make her mark as a writer. After much rejection, she agrees to pen a domestic column about the “perfect housewife” who lives on a farm in Connecticut. The column becomes a hit and she soon is pressed into entertaining a war hero for the holidays at her farm. Much hilarity ensues. Or not.

There was enthusiastic reaction to the musical on the night I attended, so I can’t really explain why it all seemed so synthetic and pedestrian to me. The score is mostly unmemorable but I could point to a lovely ballad, “American Dream”, sung beautifully by Josh Breckenridge as the war hero or the admirable way lead Audrey Cardwell can belt music that really does not deserve her talents.

The cast, under the able direction of Amy Anders Corcoran, is not the problem at Goodspeed (with the exception of woeful contributions by Melvin Tunstall, III and Raymond J. Lee), just the creaky vehicle they are driving. Sentimental and then daffy, broad and, at times, farcical, the book writers do not really have a handle here about the kind of holiday show they want to deliver. As a result what we get is more meh than musical!

The accomplished orchestra, under the direction of Adam Souza, is often in competition with the singers who are struggling to be heard. Herin Kaputkin’s costumes are period appropriate and she does particularly well by Cardwell’s feminist-in-the-making wardrobe. But pity poor Matt Bogart, as a socialist Connecticut farmer, forced to wear slacks that seem pulled up to his arm pits.

The New York City setting in act one is nearly as generic as the musical, but Lawrence E. Moten III’s scenic design also includes a festively decorated farmhouse that mostly works. In all, those undemanding theatregoers seeking a holiday respite will no doubt take this middling musical to their hearts.

“Christmas in Connecticut” continues at the Goodspeed Opera House, 6 Main Street in East Haddam through December 30th. Masks are recommended but not required. For further information, call the box office at: 860.873.8668 or visit: www.goodspeed.org.

Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and the Stratford Crier and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.

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