Sunday, April 23, 2017

Pure Imagination On Broadway

Sometimes touching something near and dear to so many people is a risky business. Broadway producers know that risk when they take a classic like Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and create a new musical for the stage. The musical opening April 23rd on Broadway first appeared in London in 2013 and ran for almost four years. With a book by David Greig and a score by March Shaiman and Scott Wittman (the duo behind Hairspray and TV's Smash), director Jack O'Brien (after coming on board when Sam Mendes left) still felt the show needed to be tinkered with more before allowing American audiences to see it. And they have tinkered. Songs have been thrown out. Adults now play kids on stage and well - it appears that scenic and costume designer Mark Thompson had his budget cut in half as the look of the show is very different from what was on The West End. (Note: IF you plan to see it on Broadway, DON'T google the trailer for the London production.)

I'll admit that I was never a huge fan of the film growing up, plus I read theater forums religiously and the word of mouth was not good on this show. Still, my husband loves BOTH films and wanted to see this so we went once the show was frozen just a few days before the official opening.

I was VERY entertained!

Sometimes it's best to go in without certain expectations for a show. This is a musical for kids and adults alike - lots of adult humor that can go right over the heads of children. There are a few songs from the film that you will recognize, but then Shaiman and Wittman have written an original score that has a great sound. Fine - it may not be as good as their Hairspray score (and I'm sure some reviewers will say that), but why must everyone be compared to what they've already done. The View from Here is a BEAUTIFUL song and so fitting for this show. (Hear some of it in this clip below.)

The musical follows the darkness of the original book more than the film. Willy Wonka has also been added to the beginning of the musical so gone is the anticipation of seeing him at the Factory, but I like the character he has now as the candy man early on. Christian Borle has had a busy year on Broadway with both Falsettos and this show. He takes bits and pieces from previous Wonkas before him, yet makes the devilish role his own. He sounds great, he's working up a storm, and seems to be enjoying the part of child tormentor. 

Three little boys split the role of Charlie and Ryan Foust was absolutely adorable at our performance. At first I thought it would bother me to see the other children played by adults, but not at all. Violet, Augustus, Veruca and Mike Teavee are all portrayed wonderfully by these adults. The parental arms of each on the journey through the factory are pretty darn great too with a special shout out to Ben Crawford (who I always love seeing on stage) as Veruca's dad and Jackie Hoffman sharing her comic genius with us. 

Emily Padgett is a loving mom trying to keep it all together for Charlie and his grandparents and seeing John Rubinstein (the original Pippin) back on Broadway as Grandpa Joe is worth the price of the golden ticket! The entire ensemble looks to be having an awesome time playing everything from reporters, to other kids to yes...Oompa Loompas! Special holler to Talya Groves who shines in whatever she does!

I have a tendency to pick shows a part, but I will say that I enjoyed this more than some other musicals (I will not name) that are on Broadway this year as well last. My hubby is a regular Joe/audience guy. He loved the performances, the darkness of it, but even he said he wished there was more 'magic' with the scenic design and not leaving so much up to our imagination. (You can see from the photos that the factory is the same set over and over with some light changes and usually one set piece pushed to the middle of the stage.) I simply say it looks like they are ready for the bus & truck tour of the show so they've already cut it down to make it easier to take Charlie all across the country so that more families get a chance for that golden ticket!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Hello And Welcome Back, Dolly!

As the commercial says, years from now there will be those that saw Bette Midler in Hello Dolly! on Broadway and those that say they did. I am SO lucky to be one of those that will be able to say I saw her. What a night! What a production. The 1964 multi-Tony Award winning musical (synonymous with Carol Channing) was revived in 1975 with an all black cast starring Pearl Bailey and then Carol Channing returned to the staircase in 1995. But this 2017 production feels fresh and new - even though it's an old-fashioned musical. It has already set records (before opening) with more than $40 million in advance ticket sales. And one of the biggest reasons for that is summed up in two words: Bette Midler.

Ms. Midler has turned this iconic role of Dolly Levi into her own. It's part what's on the paper in Michael Stewart's book of the lovable, meddling matchmaker trying to find romance for several people...including herself - but it's also part Bette on that stage. Adorable. Charming. Sassy. Sexy. All at the age of 71! (PS: She isn't the oldest to play the role as Carol was 74 in the 1995 production.) But it seems Ms. Midler hasn't aged. I've seen her in concert and all that love and warmth (and bawdiness) she conveys in concert plays beautifully in the Shubert Theatre which holds just under 1500 people. 

She is a joy from the moment she enters. Speaking fast to confuse her potential clients, lifting her dresses to show her fancy footwork, tenderly speaking to her dearly departed former husband, and that voice - that voice which is half rasp/half's all there for the audience to eat up and we do. Hearing her sing these Jerry Herman classics such as "Before The Parade Passes By", "Dancing", "Put on Your Sunday Clothes" is sweet music to our ears. I can't recall hearing the roars of cheers as I witnessed in this theater...and I've seen many a legend in Broadway shows. When she finishes the title song in that infamous red dress, the audience rose to their feet welcoming Dolly back to the Harmonia Gardens and Bette back to Broadway! She made her debut in '67 in the original production of Fiddler on the Roof and while she's done some of her concerts and a play back in 2013 on Broadway, this return to her musical roots is glorious and appreciated by every single person in the audience.

So it's Ms. Midler that brings them in, but the entire company and every creative person involved deserves just as much kudos. This production is truly a wonderful production of the old chestnut. Jerry Zaks is known for directing broad comedies and he has put his own touch on this production; stepping away from some of the standard ways we've seen past productions. The pacing reminds me of Lend Me A Tenor and he allows the actors to explore these characters in new and exciting ways. I found it refreshing. Starting with casting David Hyde Pierce as half-a-millionaire Horace Vandergelder - what a plumb role for this man and he does it masterfully. His comic timing is impeccable. He is not simply a grumpy old man, but exasperated while still lovable. 

Gavin Creel is a perfect Cornelius...the energy, the persona, and that voice! I've never heard "Ribbons Down My Back" sung so well as by Kate Baldwin. Her Irene Molloy has more "umpf" to her than those that have come before her. Taylor Trensch is a wonderful ying to Creel's yang as Barnaby. And Beanie Feldstein gives a Broadway debut as Minnie Fay that is scrumptious! Will Burton, Melanie Moore, and Jennifer Simard are all delightful in their roles bringing the right amount of comedy. And that ensemble...those waiters...they make the Shubert stage seem much larger than it is dancing Warren Carlyle's choreography. I honestly can't find one thing that I would nitpick about this production. Santo Loquasto's set and costumes, Natasha Katz lighting, Scott Lehrer's sound design - all brilliant and leaves us with a huge smile on our faces. Sometimes we simply need a musical comedy to make us leave the theater on a high. Jerry Herman's score and Michael Stewart's book of this funny and heartwarming musical does just that. (Plus the wonderful orchestrations by Larry Hochman - I forgot how much I love everything he does with counter melodies in this score.)

I've seen numerous regional and dinner theater productions of this show, but I've never seen it on Broadway. To see it at the Shubert where I saw my first Broadway musical in the summer of '84 made  it all that more special. Leaving the theater after Dolly, my friend said that her heart was full and I can't agree more. That's the power of amazing live theater. That's the joy of a Herman score. That's the euphoria of seeing a living legend giving her all, surrounded by a company that realizes they are all part of something truly magical. We feel it. We know it. We 'get' it. Thank you to the smart producers that knew Broadway needed this comedy back where it belongs.

Bette Midler and Carol Channing
I'd say get a ticket if you're in the area, but honestly...I'm not sure you can. I bought mine the morning they went on sale. Smartest thing I ever did. 

Thank you to this incredible cast for giving me a night I'll never forget.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Greed, Deceit, Betrayal On Broadway

In spring of 1984, I was in a high school production of The Little Foxes by Lillian Hellman and 33 years later I was finally able to see it on Broadway brought to us by the always wonderful Manhattan Theatre Club. What a great production it is! Every technical element in the production is perfectly fitting of the family drama set in 1900. From the incredible set by Scott Pask to the period costumes by Jane Greenwood to the lighting by Justin Townsend that gives us three completely different days...all in light and shadows.

The show first ran on Broadway in the 30s and that entire cast (except Tallulah Bankhead in the lead role of Regina Giddens) did the film version...that role went to Bette Davis. I read that Ms. Davis changed the character of the sister fighting her brothers and husband in this story of greed and power after seeing Ms. Bankhead's incredible performance on stage. Regina had been played more as a victim trying to get her own when it first came out, yet Ms. Davis created a cold and stern woman in the role and ultimately, that's what people came to know the character to be.

Linney as Birdie & Nixon as Regina
In MTC returning director Daniel Sullivan's production, Regina isn't so much as cold as she is sly and calculating - sly like a fox. She attempts an air of kindness to achieve want she wants - at all cost. It's an interesting take except that her brother Ben mentions towards the end of the play she should try more kindness to get what she wants...hmmm....isn't she doing that with the constant 'grit behind a smile' performance that she is giving? I bring this up, as I'm not sure how Regina is always played in this production. Producers have decided to split the role. At some performances Laura Linney plays Regina while Cynthia Nixon plays her much more frail, alcoholic sister-in-law, Birdie. And then other performances, they switch each witnessing what the other does in each role every night. I saw Cynthia play Regina. She was stoic, dignified, and a woman slightly on the edge noticing she could lose it all at any moment. At first I was uncertain of this portrayal, but she absolutely won me over. Ms. Linney was incredible as Birdie. She layered Birdie's normal mousy portrayal with a wonderful array of choices. While Birdie is more of a supporting role - it's a juicy one with a monologue worthy of a Tony nomination...for sure. I love both of these actresses and was so glad to get to see them. (Now I'm wondering if I will have time to return and see them in the other roles.)

Set Designer Scott Pask's instragram photo of the set
The rest of the cast is also so wonderful - including the brothers that you just want to hate. Michael McKean as the older brother Ben Hubbard transforms into a true southerner in the role. Darren Goldstein with an over bloated ego the moment we see him unravels as Oscar. These two have some wonderful moments with sister Regina. We don't see Richard Thomas until act 2 when Regina's sick husband Horace comes home, but what a force he is on the stage. A sick man, still in charge of his destiny, but with a love in his heart - well, at least for his daughter Alexandra. Francesca Carpanini plays that role and along with Michael Benz as Leo represent the younger generation from 1900 (both making their Broadway debuts). One that wants to be like the family and one that doesn't. I love Carolina Stefanie Clay as Addie and Charles Turner as Cal. Every moment they are onstage, they ground the play in a way the family members caught up in deceit simply can't. It was also great to see David Alford on stage as Mr. Marshall as I only know him from his TV show. 

The play may be an older one, but the family drama could be playing out today. The Hubbard family represents those men that constantly need to climb the financial ladder no matter the cost. And there is Regina...fighting every step of the way to have women viewed on the same playing field as men. The world hasn't changed much in over 100 years.

This is a definite must see on the list of plays for this season even with it's three acts and 2:40 running time - the time flies by! There are many revival choices this season, but from the ones I've seen...this one is placed at the top. (Now I'm anxiously wondering how the Tony committee will view the two women when it comes to nominations for June.)

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Texas Tale Delivers Powerful Punch in Short Film

Those that read my blog know how much I love film - all aspects of it. There is a new short film which is powerful, beautifully shot, incredible direction, writing, acting …I could go on and on about FAR FROM THE TREE which will have its premiere at the USA Film Festival on April 30th in Dallas, Texas. 

I had a virtual sit-down with the director, screenwriter, lead actress and producers of the film to allow them to ‘go on about it’ themselves. Watch the teaser HERE first.

Greg: First off, thank you all for joining me on my blog. Carina Rush & Cheryl Allison, what made you start WOW Films?

Carina: WOW Films was really Cheryl’s brain child, and she asked me to come onboard as a producing partner once we felt we were moving forward with FFTT.

Cheryl: I began production on a documentary called BECOMING ME over a year ago. I started WOW Films in order to produce that film under my own production company. I'm actually co-directing that one with Dave Thomas who directed FFTT. 

Greg: Dave Thomas, since she brought you up - what drew you to this piece?

Dave: The first draft of the script arrived just as I was boarding a flight in Detroit. I was thrilled to lose myself in David’s small town story. In fact, as a director, born and raised in a small southern town it was like going home. I knew this place. I could hear their voices. I could feel the sticky humid breeze. I could smell the cinnamon & apples simmering on the stove. And by the time we landed in NYC, I was in love with this short story. I felt like we had the opportunity to connect with audiences on a deep emotional level and, in the end, deliver a strong emotional punch on a very important topic. 

Greg: I just sensed this film again in that answer. How did you go about putting your team team for this film?
Carina, Cheryl, David, Angie, Dave

Carina: Cheryl was completely in charge of the casting and the crew came together based on our prior professional connections and recommendations from friends in the business. We also wanted to hire Texas local talent as much as possible since we filmed outside of Dallas. We had an amazing team, and everyone really worked well together under the pressure of an intense deadline.

Cheryl: I had been looking for a project that I could act in with Carina’s son (my godson) Gabriel Rush. David Kear is another life long friend of mine and an amazing writer. I asked him if he had any scripts dealing with a mother/son dynamic. He said he had been working on a novel along those lines for a couple of years. I asked him if he would try to write a short script. The rest is history! 

I called Dave Thomas, an incredible director as well as dear friend and asked him to direct. We brought in Oren Soffer as our Director of Photography as I loved his work. I cast Michael Hunsaker who I have worked with on stage in NY and most recently we did a production of Les Miserable together at Casa Manana. I then hired Stephen Newton and his sister Anna Newton to play younger versions of myself and Michael. The role of Aunt Dot was basically written for the incredible actress Angie Bolling. When we found out she was available, we enhanced the role to utilize her talent. Last but not! Dave Thomas and I had discussed the feel of the music we wanted for the film. We were lucky enough to be given the rights to use all Moby music.

Greg: I thought it was AMAZING you got Moby’s music for it. David Kear, where did the idea of the story come from?

David: Like most of my writing, it coalesced over time from various images and themes that I had been thinking about for some time. What I wanted to explore was what could strain the relationship between a mother and her child, and how they might confront and overcome that strain. I wanted to consider how a mother who loves her child deals with something that was neither of their fault but that nevertheless creates a boundary between them. How much will a parent sacrifice for their child, and what demons exorcise? What price will a parent pay, what suffering endure, and what pain cause, to be whole for their child.

Greg: Tell us about Abbie, the mother that Cheryl plays (yes folks…Cheryl is doing double duty as lead actress and a producer).

Angie Bolling & Cheryl Allison
David: I developed Abbie to be a woman at a crossroads, a strong woman, who remained resilient but was haunted by the past. All my life, I've been surrounded by strong southern women who have stories to tell but seldom tell them, because the silence is more bearable than the pain. Abbie does not represent one specific woman from my life who faced similar experience. Rather, she represents far too many women with similar circumstances, or any mother whom life has struck a blow that has shaken her bond with her child. The story of Abbie and Evan developed as a way to explore the depth of that pain and hopefully dig through it to something more.

Greg: Cheryl - Once again you play a mom, but this mom is very different from previous ones you’ve played - how did you "find" her? 

Cheryl: In this case, I read many stories about sexual assault, talked with some people about their personal experiences. I then read the script and dissect it. I write down how my character is described, what others in the story say about her. Then the most useful preparation I do is I write a backstory for my character. I am very method, so my backstory was 7 pages single spaced. This process really helps me slip into her skin easily and quickly when on set. 

Greg: Dave and David - Was it hard to get the story across in such a short period of time in a 16 minute film?

Dave: Everything's has its challenges - Long, short, extremely short. And having spent years as a agency director, I was well acquainted with ‘short’.  You know, It’s funny. Whenever I have to cut things down, I always think of old Mr. Bailey who lived down the road when I was growing up. Often I’d see him sitting around with his pocketknife ‘whittling’ on a piece of wood – “Ya know son, It’s sorta like life, just ask yourself – ‘what’s really important here?’ – then whittle the rest away.”

Greg: Good advice from Mr. Bailey. (I’m using that now on this blog because trust me - you all had amazing and well thought out answers!)

David: I'm used to working in the novel genre, where--quite frankly--you get more word count to work with, and where the narrative drives the reader's experience. FFTT was my first screenplay, and I quickly learned that you can't write lengthy paragraphs of description or long sections of dialogue. In my editorial work, I'm accustomed to making writers write to a particular length, so I set my boundaries at 20 pages, and then said to myself, "OK, you now have to make this whole story fit in these pages." I focused on what I wanted a scene to accomplish, not necessarily what I wanted an actor to say or do. I wanted to establish this kind of relationship, I wanted to reveal this piece of information, I wanted to foreshadow this series of events, I wanted to let the audience see this part of the character. Once I had established those elements of a sequence, the question then became "how can I accomplish all of those things economically, powerfully, and visually?" Through Dave's direction and Joel's editing, the story at 16 minutes is much stronger than my original story at 20 minutes.

Greg: LOVE that process, David! Dave - Do you approach working on a short film differently from a feature, with the cast/crew/etc?

Dave: For sure! I come from a Commercial Directing background. So, I’m used to the idea

of ‘storytelling’ taking on many different shapes and forms. With FFTT, our shooting schedule would be very short – just 3 days (in feature films you get weeks to create a nuanced creative environment.) So I embraced the idea of using local cast and crew. Not just because it would make since logistically and financially, but because it would make since creatively. The fantastic local Texas crew brought something a New York crew couldn’t – authenticity. The accent, the food, and uniquely southern gestures were abundant. So, similar to feature film sets like ‘Lincoln’, where the cast and crew dressed in period costume to create an authentic mood on set, our set was filled with locals who completely infused it with authentic ‘southern charm’.  

Greg: Dave touched on something there. The story FEELS like Texas - from the setting to these people. How important was it for those of of you from Texas to get that conveyed? 

Cheryl: For me, when David was writing the script, I didn't know what type of feel it would have. I didn't know it would be this Texas farm. When I read it though, I was so excited. I called my Aunt Judy who lives on our family farm and asked her if we could film at the farm house and on her land. She opened her home to all of us. The entire town of Eustace, TX was so welcoming. Neighbors brought food for us, donated props, trucks and an apple orchard! 

David: It was absolutely important to me, coming from Texas. Abbie and Aunt Dot's relationship and they way the speak to one another come directly from the women I grew up with and around. I wanted to capture and honor that aspect of the south. The ruggedness of small town Texas life was also important, as a metaphor for Abbie's life. The impossible vastness of the blue Texas sky, the golden sun at once brutal and brilliant, sweeping fields of grass stretching for miles - these are in Abbie's soul, as is the loneliness, the nosiness, and the bonds of a small farming town.

Greg: Working on such a powerful piece, how do you approach doing take after take (especially those moments with mother & son outside)?

Carina: I will leave Cheryl and Dave to answer that since I was busy keeping the environment clear from potential snakes (safety is always my number one priority and Cheryl can attest to that).

Gabriel Rush & Cheryl Allison
Cheryl:  Yes nothing like preparing for an emotional scene and your producer is off camera jumping up and down to keep rattlesnakes away. But seriously, those emotional moments are obviously the hardest for actors, directors and the whole crew. As an actor, I try to balance being in the moment but also being consistent. You have to think about things like continuity throughout all takes or your editor is going to curse you! In the emotional climatic scene with Gabriel at the end of the film, we just tried to stay in the moment take after take. I also use music to help me. I always have an iPod on set with a playlist specific to my character. After shooting the scene numerous times, I found out they were going to shoot one more close up of me from a different angle. I was exhausted emotionally and didn't have anything left. I went to Dave and told him I didn't think I could do it. He hugged me, reassured me and I literally pulled from his energy and it made me start crying and we got a great close-up. 

Dave: Well, in fact, the scene you’re asking about was even more complicated than you may think. Not only was it a scene with powerful emotion, but it was also highly choreographed and physical (for actors, camera and sound) and to make matters worse, the scene was shot with a setting sun. So, it’s complicated, emotional and the clock is ticking! The key here is planning. The script must be tight and every detail of the blocking must be thought through. In that ‘emotional zone’, everyone, cast & crew, must bring their ‘A game’. Because there will only be a certain amount of time we can sustain the emotion. So, it may not sound very artistic or romantic, but there it is – plan ahead – plan ahead!  

Greg: David, what was it like to see your first film come to life?

David: Surreal. Mostly because film is not a genre I had seen myself writing in. But honestly, the most remarkable thing for me was seeing the commitment of others to something that I had written. This incredible team of producers, actors, and crew took my little story and gave so much of their heart and time and energy to it. Their professionalism and integrity left me humbled and honored. I was moved that they were moved by this story. I lit the spark. They fanned it into a flame.

Greg: That’s such an incredible feeling. Thrilled you got to experience it. To close out this wonderful conversation, what does indie film mean to you and what is the importance of it in the landscape of filmmaking? 

Carina: By cinematic story telling, we can create important social impact and raise awareness. As an indie filmmaker, I feel there always needs to be a message conveyed with our films, whether they are comedies or dramas and there is a certain responsibility that comes with that. Indie to me means being truthful.

Cheryl: For me, a great indie film will have a creative artistic vision, that is story-based, great characters and relies on the art of telling a story rather than special effects etc. Indie Film pushes boundaries and many times proves that you don't need a huge budget to capture the heart of an audience - you just need a good story and talented people to tell that story. In my opinion, thats exactly what we had on FFTT.

Dave: Indie filmmaking is tremendously important.  At it’s best, it’s pure, grassroots, passionate storytelling. And for me – There is one remarkable moment in filmmaking that is incredibly special, particularly in the ‘passion project’ world of indie filmmaking.  After so much work - You’re on set - the concept, story, script, casting, costume, location, lights, sound, camera, crew… everything has come down to this –  And, for that one remarkable moment - everyone leans forward – and there is silence – there we are - together - all standing on the ‘precipice of expectation’ – in anticipation of a single word – a word that will change all the weeks of work and sweat and passion - into story --- ‘ACTION!’

Beautifully said and thank you all for taking the time to share your thoughts on this journey - I encourage all of my readers to watch for FAR FROM THE TREE and go see a screening when it’s near you! 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Broadway Delivers Déjà Vu with Groundhog Day

Another popular film has made its way to Broadway and this time it is Groundhog Day.

Another popular film has made its way to Broadway and this time it is Groundhog Day.

(See what I did there.) 

The musical follows the same structure of the film that starred Bill Murray as arrogant weatherman Phil Connors who is sent to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to cover the festivities and then wakes every day to find it's February 2nd over and over. Instead of using this loop to his advantage, he finds he must learn to do good in the situation ...something very hard for one as selfish as Phil. ('s a little like Scrooge.) I was thoroughly entertained by the sheer fun of the evening. Sometimes we just want to go to the theater and laugh and enjoy ourselves and that's exactly what this show offers.

The musical ran in London to very good reviews and received 8 Olivier Nominations  (London's equivalent to the Tonys) which will be announced April 9th. Producers brought it to Broadway where it will officially open April 17th after it's preview period, however the team must feel it's in good shape as they've already recorded the original Broadway cast album to be released two days before it opens. HUGE kudos to Matthew Warchus for his incredible direction of this piece which could feel like a broken record since it repeats itself over and over. This artistic director of the Old Vic in London and his creative team are truly pulling out all the stops to create a fun-filled evening on several turn tables, lots of LED lights, falling snow, toy cars, and yes - a man in a groundhog suit (wonderful scenic design by Rob Howell). I don't want to give away too much of the magic of the show as it should be enjoyed in the theater, but they have come up with some cool ways to show time starting over and over and over. (Love the entire sequence during "Hope" in Act 2!) 

Andy Karl puts on the suit (again and again) of weatherman Phil Connors and has made this role his own. Even if you know the movie well, you do not feel you're getting a carbon copy of Bill Murray (which I can't say for other films that have traveled to Broadway). I love when he does comedy as he masterfully showed in On the 20th Century and he is given every opportunity to shine in this show - hardly ever leaving the stage. Even when he's such a jerk through act one, there is still something so charming about this actor that you are pulled into this journey with him. If anyone can give Ben Platt competition for Best Actor in a musical this year - it's Mr. Karl who is giving a tour de force performance and workout on that stage. Utterly brilliant in his portrayal.

Broadway newcomer Barrett Doss plays Phil's producer who has the challenge of keeping the man in check, yet we get to see her dreams and aspirations as well (this is a musical after all, so she can sing about them) and sing she does! What an awesome voice. She plays Rita with spunk and a likability that anyone with half a brain will know Phil should be falling for her by Act 2. The rest of the ensemble plays the town folk in Punxsutawney who live out Phil's day over and over - ever so slightly changing things each time. I'm amazed how this entire cast can do this show nightly and not get confused about what scene they are in. Bravo.

The score written by Tim Minchin (Matilda) is serviceable. I don't say that to be rude, it just doesn't stand out for's just there. It's also an odd collection of sounds that don't all jive together. We have modern musical, old-time country, rock, a little alternative rock (think R.E.M.) so for me it's not the highlight of the musical. Which is a shame since that's what this is...a musical. There are some very interesting rhymes at times and at others, imperfect rhymes jump out and offend my ears. There are also sub characters given major songs which have no point being in the show. It's almost as if the writers couldn't decide if they wanted to tell the story of Phil having the ensemble be caricatures around him or let us delve inside of their minds too for their at times they give us both. Which makes for too long of an evening. However these elements are all staying (see above where the album has already been recorded). Danny Rubin has adapted his own screenplay for the film, but both he and Minchin miss the mark by not giving the lead character an "I Want" song. Every musical you know tells us what the main character wants to achieve by the second song and we watch their journey. That's a major issue with the structure of Groundhog Day as a musical - Phil doesn't have an overriding goal (so they've given it to Rita to share early in the show). 

Honestly, this is my biggest beef with the show - but that said...I was still greatly entertained. I just feel this may be what keeps audiences from pulling for Phil (and Andy Karl deserves it). The couple in front of me left at intermission...guess the déjà vu was too much for them. That's a shame as Act 2 is a very different feel from Act 1 so they missed out on a pretty wonderful show where it becomes It's A Wonderful Life. This show had the potential to be really great (with some trimming and tweaking). Instead, I can just say despite the flaws that are there, go and be entertained - Andy Karl's performance alone makes it worth the price of admission. (The actor in me was feeling every bead of sweat that fell from his head knowing he's working his butt off on that stage!)