Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Christmas in Connecticut: Trimming a Moldy Tree

Matt Bogart, Audrey Cardwell and Josh Breckenridge in Christmas in Connecticut. (Photo: Diane Sobolewski)

Christmas in Connecticut shows up on TV every holiday season, but that doesn’t make it a classic. This Jell-o-bland 1945 comedy sits on a wobbly premise. An emphatically undomesticated magazine writer (played by Barbara Stanwyck) writes a fictitious column that presents her as a family woman cooking gourmet meals for her husband on a picturesque Connecticut farm. Her publisher (Sydney Greenstreet, looking like he knows how badly miscast he is), somehow ignorant of the truth, that she’s a single New Yorker who dines in restaurants, compels her to invite a war hero (the hopelessly bland Dennis Morgan) home for Christmas. Since her steady suitor (Reginald Gardiner) just happens to own a farm in Connecticut and she and her editor (Robert Shayne) are friendly with a gifted local chef (S.Z. Sakall), they decide to try to pull off an elaborate charade. Except for Stanwyck, who gives the tepid material the old college try, no one associated with the picture – not the director, Peter Godfrey, or the writers, Lionel Houser and Adele Comandini – could be called remotely distinguished.

The notion of turning Christmas in Connecticut into a stage musical feels desperate, but it’s December and after all, there is a limited number of holiday-themed properties. The result, at the Goodspeed Opera House, is a bargain-basement confection that, like the movie, is set just after World War II but has been tricked up to look like it passes the woke test with the addition of a socialistic naysayer and a gay couple. The book by Patrick Pacheco and Erik Forrest Jackson is even worse than the original screenplay, and the score by Jason Howland (music) and Amanda Yesnowitz (lyrics) is forced and worn from the opening number, which recycles ideas from Leonard Bernstein and Comden and Green’s Wonderful Town. Seven of the eight songs in the first act are belters, culminating in a stupefying novelty number called “Catch the Ornament,” in which the protagonist, Liz (Audrey Cardwell), and her Hungarian chef buddy, Felix (James Judy), invent a game to occupy the ill-fitting dinner guests. Let’s just say that “Catch the Ornament” makes “Turkey Lurkey Time” from Promises, Promises sound like a winner in the holiday-show-songs sweepstakes. Toward the end of act one, they slip in one ballad, “American Dream,” sung by the war vet, Jefferson Jones (Josh Breckenridge), that shifts the tone from fake-cynical to fake-inspirational. We get more of that in the second-act finale, a Christmas hymn titled “May You Inherit.”