Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires

Christmas in Connecticut
Goodspeed Musicals
Review by Fred Sokol

Also see Zander's review of A Christmas Carol and Fred's review of The Brightest Thing in the World


The Cast
Photo by Diane Sobolewski
The new musical, Christmas in Connecticut, fashioned after the 1945 movie starring Barbara Stanwyck, is fun, funny, and just distinctive enough to be enticing. Presented by Goodspeed Musicals in its world premiere production through December 30, this light and lively piece provides many perks even when viewed from a corner seat in the very first row of the cozy theater. The phrase "up close and personal" applies: It's almost as if you're on the stage and in touch with a most animated cast.

Patrick Pacheco and Erick Forrest Jackson provide the book for the clever and oftentimes effervescent show, while Jason Howland composed the music and Amanda Yesnowitz wrote the lyrics. Liz Sandor, whose last name switches early on to Liz Lane (Audrey Cardwell), arrives in New York City from Iowa in 1943 with hopes of becoming a journalist. It would be a stretch to call her a feminist, but Liz has strength and stands up for her beliefs. Early on she proclaims that "money isn't everything" and this is true. Dudley Beecham (Raymond J. Lee) is the pressured editor of a magazine and he's petrified of publisher Alexander Yardley (Melvin Tunstall III). Dudley encourages Liz to write a column which will feature little gems about her made-up farm in Connecticut, which comes complete with husband and infant. Yardley does not know this is pretense and that appearance does not at all equal reality.

Yardley is determined to have a Christmas dinner party for Jefferson Jones (Josh Breckenridge), who might have been wounded during the second world war. Significant fibbing and game playing (quite delectable) escalate at the barn/farmhouse. The second act features, in addition to those characters already mentioned, Gladys Higgenbottom (Rashidra Scott), an assistant to the publisher and also a fact-checking type, and Norah O'Connor (Tina Stafford), who keeps the farm running but is not introduced in that mode. A chef and foodie, Felix Bassenak (James Judy), adds comic relief which rests upon, well, comic relief. Finally, actor Matt Bogart plays Victor Beecham, Dudley's socialist brother, steadfast and definitely self-righteously obnoxious.

Authors Jackson and Pacheco created Gladys's second act motive as one in which she does research and is on to the strategizing as well. The writers also inject the farm-working Victor's leftist politics. These qualities add spice, pizzazz, and some import as well. While some characters are of the recognizable, stock type, others are atypical and just diverting enough to hold extra interest. In all, the imaginative team fares well in formulating a snappy musical production which never flags.

The score has the feel of 1940s big band, yet it is delivered by a total of eight extremely skilled musicians. The amplification and balance with singing is precise. Hence, this is not an overbearing but complementary sound. Howland and Yesnowitz bring variety to the show from spirited numbers to others which are more nuanced. In all, the mix is most fortunate.

Leading Lady Audrey Cardwell sings sweetly, has nice range, and excels on "Tomorrow's Woman," delivered at the outset and shortly before the conclusion of the presentation. Rashidra Scott's "Something's Fishy" begins the second act with flair. James Judy and Tina Stafford combine for a very touching version of "Blame It On the Old Magoo."

Director Amy Anders Corcoran deftly weaves together the recently devised book, music and lyrics. The pace of the show varies according to mood and need, but an energetic pulse is felt throughout. Choreographer Marjorie Failoni has tossed in some nice touches within an ensemble tap dance to accompany a number entitled "The Most Famous Jefferson."

Adam Souza leads the eight-person band. If a theater patron happens to be positioned extra close to that contingent, such a perch can be advantageous. It is most evident that, for example, lead reed player Liz Baker Smith plays perfectly behind and with Audrey Cardwell as the actress delivers the show's first number. Bassist Dave Uhl is excellent and proactive on "Old Magoo."

This Goodspeed Opera House production revolves around shining artistic ability and the notion that it takes a village of gifted performers both on and off stage to fuel this kind of enterprising treat. Some actors are new to Goodspeed and others return, while all appear to be on the same vivacious page.

Christmas in Connecticut runs through December 30, 2022, at Goodspeed Musicals, 6 Main St., East Haddam CT. For tickets and information, call 860-873-8668 or visit goodspeed.org.


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