AwardsReviews:

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.

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.

“CUNNING & CHARMING.”

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

Continue Reading +Minimize Review -
Listen to the Review +

The show manages to couple laugh-out-loud British humour with American razzmatazz — not a small ask.

★★★★★
At the outset it’s hard not to feel just a little bit sorry for Andy Karl.

He’s the guy playing weatherman Phil Connors in this new musical of the beloved 1993 film so not only does he have to repeat every day endlessly, just like Bill Murray in the movie, he has to do it wondering if he’s as good as Bill Murray.

At the outset it’s hard not to feel just a little bit sorry for Andy Karl.

He’s the guy playing weatherman Phil Connors in this new musical of the beloved 1993 film so not only does he have to repeat every day endlessly, just like Bill Murray in the movie, he has to do it wondering if he’s as good as Bill Murray.

He can stop worrying. This musical, with music and lyrics by the alchemist that is Tim Minchin (of smash hit Matilda fame), is so much fun that it should be illegal. Karl seems younger than Murray, fitter, playing the part with more of a swagger. He’s still arrogant. We all quite enjoyed it when his weather report producer, Rita, sings: “They all told me he would be an arsehole — and he is.”

Actually, you might also be tempted to feel sorry for Carlyss Peer who plays Rita. Day after day, she has to wonder if she’s as good as Andie MacDowell. But while she’s not as glam, that doesn’t matter. It’s a different dynamic than the film: Connors is hunkier, Rita is bolshier. It suits our times much better.

So let’s begin again because, hey, it’s catching when you’ve just seen a musical set on groundhog day in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, and everyone is waiting for a rodent to poke his head out of a hole and predict if spring is coming. Phil the weatherman, also a bit of a rodent but more of a rat, keeps waking up in the same B&B bedroom, full of crocheted pillows and patchwork. Phil asks the old lady who runs the B&B one morning: “Do you ever have déjà vu?” She answers: “I’m not sure, I’ll check in the kitchen.”

This is the brainchild of the Old Vic’s Matthew Warchus (who also directed Matilda): it was he who roped in Minchin as well as the film’s writer, Danny Rubin.

The result is a musical that is funny, frantic and, at times, very touching. The choreographer Peter Darling has created a rambunctious madcap feel. The set by Rob Howell is a joy: small-town America writ large, with cut-outs of streets of housing, hung upside down, framing the stage. The B&B bedroom revolves with perfect timing. The “car chase scene”, after the ultimate evening-gone-wrong-in-a-bar scene, is a beaut.

Plus, they’ve chucked in some magical manoeuvres while they were at it that got their own applause. A few songs seemed a bit too long and could use a trim but Groundhog Day manages to couple laugh-out-loud British humour with American razzmatazz — not a small ask. Anyway, it’s great. Or have I said that before?

Continue Reading +Minimize Review -

This one will run and run. And run. And run… Reuniting the Tony Award-winning team behind “Matilda,” “Groundhog Day” cracks open Danny Rubin’s story for the 1993 Harold Ramis film to reveal the philosophies spinning beneath its surface. What seemed, onscreen, like a slight fable about a TV weatherman stuck in a time-loop starts to look like a wise old classic. Even missing a take-home tune, the sort that sticks around for days, it’s the most cohesive musical in ages. Tim Minchin’s score is as smart as Matthew Warchus’ staging is witty.

On Rob Howell’s revolving set, Andy Karl’s egocentric weatherman Phil Connors goes round in circles. In Punxsatawney, Penn., to report on the annual Groundhog Day celebrations, Connors finds himself living the same day on a loop, the same song playing on his alarm clock, the same over-friendly faces smiling his way.

A slicker, smugger presence than Bill Murray’s jaded cynic, Karl’s Connors is a man coasting on autopilot. He clenches his jaw in silent, smiling irritation and turns on a surface charm when the camera starts rolling. The irony is that it takes the world staying the same to shake him into the present, and, as one Feb. 2 follows another, he learns to take each day as it comes and to treat others as individuals in their own right.

Bolstered by Minchin’s music, Rubin’s book becomes far more than a simple Scrooge story. It’s not just that Phil’s tailspin from discombobulation to depression to give-a-damn nihilism is brilliantly done — Karl wheeling round like a new man each time — it’s that “Groundhog Day” pushes past its protagonist to see a bigger, fuller picture. In her numbers, his producer Rita (a sparky, savvy Carlyss Peer) seems to be stuck in a Groundhog Day of her own, hit on by a conveyor belt of inappropriate men. In fact, everyone is. The song “Hope” has the whole of Punxsatawney sing out their souls: all of them stuck in their ways, all trying to change. In giving space to their stories, “Groundhog Day” learns its own lesson.

It’s a mark of what musical theater can do. Minchin’s score almost functions like a commentary, prising Rubin’s plot open to pull out its themes. The opening number, “Tomorrow,” turns Punxsatawney’s annual rite from a whimsical curio to an enacted expression of hope, while “Small Town USA” sets the cosmopolitan Connors singing in counterpoint to a buoyant chorus. Again and again, Minchin gives ideas a musical shape. The small town’s sound is a twee time-warp tune and, as the one day repeats, reprises grow discordant and shrill. Two dive bar drunks drawl “Nobody Cares,” a country-ish drone around a repeating riff, then career off on a careless joyride as the song speeds up. Another number — Minchin to its core — spoofs the industries that peddle false hope through bogus therapies.

Clever as it is, “Groundhog Day” works through feeling. Minchin’s music surges with sentiment and wins you round to its characters. Karl, in particular, is superb. His cynicism melts away through sheer exhaustion. Peer ensures Rita isn’t a trophy to be won but a woman in charge of her own heart. Their final duet, “Seeing You,” is a gorgeous groundswell of a song.

However, it’s all very much a show: a stage, not a world. Punxsatawney’s less a place than a parade — the small town surrounds the stage like a skirting board, and teeny model cars chase one another among teeny model houses. Peter Darling’s choreography enlivens more than it enlightens, and certain scenes tend towards sketches — a byproduct of beginning over and over perhaps, but drawn out and over-used nonetheless.

Small matter, though. “Groundhog Day” is a treat, one that wrings meaning and morality at every turn.

Continue Reading +Minimize Review -

Something extraordinary has happened at the Old Vic. A much-loved, ingeniously funny and clever Hollywood film has made a triumphant theatrical rebirth – in a show that looks, on first viewing, equal to, and perhaps better than, the movie.

Director Matthew Warchus, choreographer Peter Darling and Tim Minchin, the Australian comedian turned musical maestro, enjoyed a runaway success with Matilda: the Musical. But their latest venture is in a different league: sophisticated, smart and more adult in theme.

Does it provide the same quantity of standout, sing-at-home numbers that we saw in Matilda? Hard to say at first sitting – but what is clear is that Groundhog Day is as funny and as touching as you could wish, and it lands with the confidence of an instant classic.

For those not acquainted with the 1993 film, the bare-bones conceit is so simple that it could be scribbled on the back of a postcard from the town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. This is where, every February (true fact), thousands of people converge to see whether the resident celebrity woodchuck will detect the coming of spring, or decide that winter is going to stick around a bit longer.

Bumptious Pittsburg weatherman Phil Connors (Bill Murray in the screen version) is sent to cover the event, and finds the job very much beneath him. Then he gets trapped by a blizzard, marooned among the provincials he sneers at, and finds himself forced to relive the same day over and over, as if some unseen hand is hitting the replay button. The film was so successful that the phrase “groundhog day” entered the lexicon, a go-to description for feeling you’re stuck in rut.

Minchin and co, with original screenwriter Danny Rubin supplying the book, follow the film’s structure. Yet from the start, when Punxsutawney-ites gather in winter woollies, clutching sparklers to hymn a hopeful chorus, yearning for the sun, the theatrical departure points are as clear as they are exciting.

Andy Karl’s Phil is younger and better-groomed than Murray, but just as insufferable. He sing-talks to us, as he rouses himself in his B&B bedroom (a grotto-like contraption courtesy of designer Rob Howell), summing up the place in snappy, throwaway lines that have a jazz-like lilt: (“Shallow talk/ deep snow”). The set is toy-town dinky, with miniaturised houses on poles, and a festooning of whitened townscapes – to bring home the way that Phil goes on an entertaining journey from two-dimensional hog to fully rounded human.

There’s barely any let-up in the music, the movement or the scene-shifting on the revolving stage. Minchin uses repetition and sustained notes as a means of deepening the levels of irony, every dab of a refrain contributing to the mood, which includes funk, soul, rock ’n’ roll, bluegrass and Country and Western.

Like the best stage farce, what starts slowly soon picks up speed. The lyrics are spry, ever alert to a gag, and there’s ample humour in the first half, especially when a panicked Phil seeks out clueless New Age health gurus: “Usually I’d advisa ya / to try this tranquilisa”, runs one neat prescription.

Realising that his actions are free from consequences, Phil becomes a nightmare personality – trying to chase the ladies, above all his likeable, kindly location producer, Rita (here a sensational Carlyss Peer). But his bid to refine his seduction techniques results in a full-blown existential crisis. If we emerge finally – with him – in a place of hard-won serenity, it’s not before the darkest comedy and a moment when the ensemble reachs a point of wild hallucinogenic delirium in a protracted tap-dance routine.

With this beacon of hope for new musical theatre, the Old Vic is finally on an incredible roll.

Continue Reading +Minimize Review -

Next Page: