Christmas in Connecticut
Premiering at Goodspeed
By: Karen Isaacs - Dec 20, 2022
The new musical, Christmas in Connecticut, now premiering at Goodspeed through Friday, Dec. 30, is a lighthearted screwball comedy that, like many of the genre, has a hidden meaning.
I’ll admit that I wasn’t familiar with the 1945 film that starred Barbara Stanwyck, so I can’t compare how faithful the authors – Patrick Pacheco & Erik Forrest Jackson (book), Jason Howland (music) and Amanda Yesnowitz (lyrics) – followed the original plot.
But given that screwball comedies often feature a strong career-minded female lead who rebels at the stereotypical “feminine” demeanor and roles, it seems as though they have captured the intent of the film. Of course, in 1940s films, the female usually decides to give up her “rebellious” ways and settle down with a good man.
In this case, our lead is Liz Sandor (played pitch-perfectly by Audrey Cardwell), who comes to NYC to write articles about women doing things and changing the world. But in the male-dominated world of women’s magazines, that is considered outrageous. All they want are articles on home, cooking, decorating and more. (Does it sound familiar?) What may surprise some audience members is that these magazines – from Good Housekeeping to McCall’s and others were led by men who dictated content.
Liz strikes out finding a job doing what she wants, so she settles for writing a column in which she pretends to be a country housewife in Connecticut, talking about the beautiful scenery, her handsome husband, the meals she cooks, and the garden she tends. It is a huge success.
It’s a given in these stories that someone is going to want Liz to actually produce these things. In this case, the head of the company comes up with a “brilliant” idea – Liz (and her husband and baby) will host a WWII hero for Christmas.
How to produce the country home, the husband, the baby and the ability to cook? If it takes a village to raise a child, it also takes a small army to try and pull this off. And there are bound to be mix-ups.
Let’s say that, like all good romcoms (and screwball comedies are essentially romcoms), all ends happily.
Some may wonder if Liz giving up her advocacy of women’s abilities is a happy ending, but unlike the older films, there is a hint that she will keep pushing boundaries.
As a world premiere, this is a work in progress. Changes are being made. When I saw it, one song had been moved, and a reprise was eliminated.
Audrey Cardwell as Liz must be ambitious, determined and scheming while still likable. She manages this with a “can-do” attitude worthy of any determined woman. She has never met an obstacle that she can’t overcome. In addition, she must also spar with her “husband” without being a shrew.
Cardwell carries this all off with aplomb. Her voice is perfectly suited for the music that has a strong ‘40s feel.
Every musical of the period has to have an older couple to provide some humor and some “senior citizen” romance. Here, it is chef/restauranteur Felix Bassenak and housekeeper Norah O’Connor. The pronunciation of Felix’s last name is a running joke. James Judy as Felix and Tina Stafford as Norah have real chemistry and are great in the one duet, “Blame It on the Old Magoo.”
Matt Bogart, the brother of Liz’s editor, is pressed into the role of her husband. Bogart has a great voice that goes to waste in the show. Of all the characters, this is the one that needs to be rethought. The character, Victor, currently seems to be a collection of traits and stereotypes but is not a real person. Bogart does what he can with this role.
Josh Breckenridge is the wounded war hero invited for the holiday. Is it really necessary to have a running joke about the character’s heroic actions? It seems more of a distraction than adding to the fun. Breckenridge handles the humor and his big number “American Dream” well.
As the magazine publisher, Melvin Tunstall III has the authority and flair for a successful man. He commands the stage.
We must have the nosy person who suspects something is going on. Rashidra Scott plays Gladys, the publisher’s assistant who yearns to be a fact-checker. She manages to show up at the Connecticut house and begins to notice something is amiss.
I found Raymond J. Lee lacking as the editor who proposes the column to Liz and then tries to keep it going. He’s another character that needs rethinking; it doesn’t ring true.
The humor is predictable – there has to be the scene of the city girl trying to milk a cow or do chores in heels and a fashionable outfit.
As usual at Goodspeed, the production values are excellent. Scenic Designer Lawrence E. Moten III has created a black-and-white feel for the New York scenes and a gorgeous rustic country home for the Connecticut scenes. Most people wouldn’t mind living in it.
Herin Kaputkin, the costume designer, captures the 1940s feel, even down to the seamed stockings and the WWII trick of using an eyebrow pencil to create a “seam” on bare legs.
All of this was under the sure-handed direction of Amy Anders Corcoran, the musical direction of Adam Souza and the choreography (which is limited) to Marjorie Failoni.
Christmas in Connecticut is worth seeing now. It could easily develop into a holiday standard.
For tickets visit Goodspeed.org.
This content is courtesy of Shore Publications and Zip06.com