Christmas in Connecticut at Goodspeed Opera House
Christmas in Connecticut, the 1945 Warner brothers film, is a sappy, sentimental, but nonetheless highly enjoyable rom-com (to use a turn of phrase not yet then coined). Its success is due largely to the chemistry between stars Barbara Stanwyck and the now largely forgotten Dennis Morgan.
The film has enjoyed a robust afterlife with many people citing it as their favorite holiday film. Amazon ranks the DVD as #9 in “Romance (Movies & TV).”
In a shameless attempt to save myself some time, here is Christmas in Connecticut’s plot summary courtesy of Wikipedia:
“Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck) is a single New Yorker, employed as a food writer. Her articles about her fictitious Connecticut farm, husband, and baby are admired by housewives across the country. Her publisher, Alexander Yardley (Sydney Greenstreet), is unaware of the charade and insists that Elizabeth host a Christmas dinner for returning war hero Jefferson Jones (Dennis Morgan), who read all of her recipes while in the hospital and is so fond of them that his nurse/fiancée Mary Lee (Joyce Compton), wrote a letter to the publisher. Facing a career-ending scandal, not only for herself but for her editor, Dudley Beecham (Robert Shayne), Lane is forced to comply. In desperation, Elizabeth agrees to marry her friend, John Sloan (Reginald Gardiner), who has a farm in Connecticut. She also enlists the help of her chef friend and “honorary uncle” Felix Bassenak (S. Z. Sakall), who has been providing her with the recipes for her articles.”
Christmas in Connecticut, the musical now enjoying its world premiere at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut, works some intriguing variations on the film’s plot. The changes wrought by Patrick Pacheco and Erik Forrest Jackson, who co-wrote the book, do not necessarily improve on the original, but they do no harm and add some twists that will amuse and perhaps surprise those familiar with the film.
As to further plot specifics, my lips are sealed. Far be it from me to spoil anyone’s fun. If you are so disposed to see the show, rent the film beforehand to maximize your enjoyment.
Under the direction of Amy Anders Corcoran, and taking into account obvious budget restraints, Goodspeed is giving Christmas in Connecticut a sturdy if not spectacular production. While a Broadway transfer is probably a non-starter, it’s easy to see how the show could become a holiday season staple at regional and community theatres, which no doubt explains why Broadway Licensing commissioned it.
The music by Jason Howland, along with the clever lyrics of Amanda Yesnowitz, are perfectly tuneful but seldom leap out as numbers destined to become standards. One exception is “May You Inherit,” a Christmas carol that closes the show. The tune is beautiful, the lyrics inspirational, and it deserves to enter the Christmas repertoire.
Lawrence E. Moten III has created a clever set (including a lovely period-style drop curtain, above) that seamlessly moves the action from New York City to Christmas in Connecticut. The Goodspeed’s stage does not lend itself to lavish production numbers (the place dates from 1877), but choreographer Marjorie Failoni manages a cute tap-dance-y one for the star-spangled “American Dream” number.
Nice contributions, too, from Herin Kaputkin (costumes), Rui Rita (lights), and Adam Souza (music direction). My only complaint was the overly aggressive amplification.
The cast is solid and their bios attest to pedigrees that include Broadway understudy gigs, first national tours, and the like. I especially enjoyed the lovely Audrey Cardwell as Liz; Josh Breckenridge, who brings an infectious aw-shucks charm to Jefferson Jones; James Judy as the frisky chef Felix Bassenak; and Matt Bogart as a leftie farmer.
Christmas in Connecticut is an engaging little musical and, if you are within hailing distance of East Haddam, it can provide a perhaps welcome break from the usual holiday offerings of The Nutcracker and endless variations on A Christmas Carol .
Christmas in Connecticut plays through December 30, 2022. For more information and to buy tickets, visit the Goodspeed website.
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