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. (Yes...it'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 me...it'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 stories...so 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!)

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