A day to remember…
One of the greatest first world problems is writing a review of something that is so darned good that you can find nothing bad to say about it. Such is the case with the new musical Groundhog Day, which is completing a limited ten-week run in London’s The Old Vic. The critics have loved it, and the audience has reportedly been on their collective feet with rapturous standing ovations night after night. But was this a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes, and was it time for someone to pull back the curtain to reveal it for what it truly was? Spoiler alert: No.
Of course, the team behind the musicalisation (that must be a real word) of the 1993 fantasy comedy film do have prior form – their Matilda continues to wow audiences on multiple continents. Director Marcus Warchus and composer (music and lyrics) Tim Minchin have delivered something here that is just as catchy, infectious, witty and snappy as their adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic and I see no reason why it shouldn’t be as successful, maybe even more so.
The original movie screenwriter Danny Rubin is also on board to write the book of the musical, giving this project the sort of author-approved authenticity that is lacking in so many film-to-musical adaptations
Harold Ramis’ movie starred Bill Murray as grumpy weatherman Phil, begrudgingly dragged to Pennsylvanian backwater Punxsutawney to cover the annual Groundhog Day ceremony which uses a furry critter to determine whether or not spring will come early. Phil’s intolerable and curmudgeonly, finding himself in a time loop, repeating the same day until he becomes a better person. It’s a simple and oft-used trope, most recently in Edge of Tomorrow and Doctor Who’s Heaven Sent. But there’s something fascinating in the use of the Sisyphus Greek myth, particularly in seeing whether the protagonist is able to remember what they have discovered for subsequent cycles and if he/she can leaves clues or bring others up to speed.
Andy Karl wisely avoids trying to be Bill Murray and instead creates his own Phil, sitting somewhere between Ron Burgundy and Family Guy’s Quagmire. He’s a self-centred heel of the highest order, which makes his redemption so much more enjoyable. It’s a star-making role, and if you didn’t know him before, just watch his rise. Carlyss Peer is great in the Andie McDowell role as Phil’s producer and wannabe (on his part) love interest. She’s a great foil to Karl’s Phil and belts out some great numbers.
The stage design cleverly utilises rotating circles within circles, pirouetting performers in different direction as the whole central space spins around. Phil’s bedroom set, the cornerstone to the start of each cycle, is also beautifully created from three separate modules that come together to create a whole room, before spinning on their axes to create other rooms and locations.
One particular scene involving toy cars to present an overhead shot of a car chase is both hysterical and ingenious. Credit also to the clever way that the repeated scenes are tweaked slightly to match Phil’s moods, and also the ingenious way that scenes are condensed or skipped in a way that movie can use a montage or quick editing.
Those familiar with Minchin’s work will already know that he has a wonderful ability to rhyme words that really should rhyme and to find lyrics that beautifully express the emotion that the character is externalising. Fans of his alternative medicine act –“You know what they call alternative medicine that’s been proved to work? Medicine.” – will be delighted to hear that his views on the subject are continued in a great song here about therapy.
The all-too-short run at The Old Vic means that the chances of grabbing a ticket were very limited, but if all goes to plan the show will be opening in Broadway next year, and a West End run in a permanent home must surely be a given.
Verdict: Funny, clever, engaging and with a huge heart – this is the sort of production that you would happily experience again the next day. It’s why we go to theatre. If you haven’t shed a tear or laughed like a drain by the end, there’s really no hope for you. Outstanding. 10/10.