BROADWAY PREVIEWS BEGIN MARCH 16, 2017
Much in the manner of its improbable romantic Twilight Zone-style plot, GROUNDHOG DAY seems guaranteed to have the skeptics waving (and using) white handkerchiefs long before its final curtain, while transforming Andy Karl into the top-of-the-heap musical star he has long deserved to be. Featuring a creative team that includes the book writer Danny Rubin (who wrote the Groundhog Day screenplay with Harold Ramis) and the songwriter Tim Minchin (the fabulous Matilda the Musical), this bright whirligig of a show is a shrewd juggler of contradictions.
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It is cool (as in hip) and warm (as in cuddly); it is spiky and sentimental. And it transforms its perceived weaknesses into strengths in ways that should disarm even veteran musical-haters. You know that whole trapped-in-time element of the plot, wherein everything is repeated ad infinitum? Isn’t that what often drives you crazy about musicals, having to listen to the same damn melodies and watch the same dance steps over and over?
Well, Mr. Warchus and company know all about those fears and make cunningly sadistic use of them. As we watch our hero, the professionally snarky weather reporter Phil Connors (Mr. Karl), having to re-experience the same events, the claustrophobia is heightened by his being surrounded by a chorus forever moving and musicalizing in the same monotonously, relentlessly peppy styles.
“Aargh!” you think. “Somebody please get me out of this musical, stat!” Except only a part of you feels that way, because Mr. Karl is doing the suffering for you, in a manner that makes you both root for his deliverance and hope he’s stuck forever in purgatory (partly because he deserves to be, but partly because he’s so entertaining in limbo).
About Phil’s special quandary: It’s the same as it was in the 1993 movie. Phil, a burned-out weatherman, is sent on assignment to Punxsutawney, Pa., on Feb. 2 to witness the annual appearance of the town’s resident weather-predicting groundhog.
Phil feels nothing but contempt for the ritual, the town and everyone who celebrates it. He is to Groundhog Day what Scrooge is to Christmas but with a greater appetite for partying. Anyway, after a near-eternity of reliving and rearranging that single day, and behaving as badly (and as hilariously) as eternity allows, Phil starts to wax philosophical and stop and smell the snowflakes and — could it be? — even be ready to take a chance on love with one Rita Hanson, the hard-working producer he initially dismissed as boring.
For the most part, this production manages to balance the sweet and the sour to charming, palate-tickling effect, starting with Rob Howell’s slightly askew cookie-cutter Americana set and costumes.
As he demonstrated in his score (with Dennis Kelly) for Matilda, Mr. Minchin is an inspired mixmaster of darkness and brightness. Even this show’s early numbers, extolling the homespun virtues of small-town life with harmonic “aahs” and folksy bluegrass chords, have a depressive undertow. And when Mr. Minchin feels like signaling angst, he brings on the electric guitars and vocals for Mr. Karl that bring to mind Michael Stipe losing his religion.
Mr. Karl imbues Phil with all shades of sarcasm and kindness and what falls in between with equal conviction. He is by no means merely imitating Bill Murray. Instead, he’s translating the essence of Mr. Murray’s lazy dryness into the high-voltage energy of musicals. He makes that transition so joyously and persuasively I did wonder what the show might be like without Mr. Karl.
I grinned pretty much all the way through GROUNDHOG DAY, unexpectedly happy to be stuck with Phil in Punxsutawney.
Excerpted from The New York Times
Meet Phil Connors, a disgruntled big-city weatherman mysteriously stuck in small-town America reliving the same day over and over and over again—with no consequences, no regrets, no tomorrows, and no hangovers. But once he starts getting to know associate TV producer Rita Hanson, he discovers it’s a day of second, third and fourth chances.
Based on the iconic film, GROUNDHOG DAY The Musical is reimagined by the award-winning creators of the international hit Matilda The Musical—including director Matthew Warchus and songwriter Tim Minchin—with a book by original screenwriter Danny Rubin. Starring two-time Tony Award® nominee Andy Karl, GROUNDHOG DAY is the new musical comedy about living life to the fullest, one day at a time.