Groundhog Day – Book by Danny Rubin, Music & Lyrics by Tim Minchin
August has been such a busy month. Not only have I managed to read 19 books, but I managed to go to the theatre twice and forgot to tell you about the first time when I took my daughter to the Old Vic at the start of the month to see Groundhog Day – the musical which was very good indeed. It is only on for a couple more weeks, but surely a West End transfer is on the books ?Having seen and adored the RSC’s Matilda – Minchin’s first musical venture (reviewed here), I had no hesitation in booking tickets for his second, especially as he was working with Danny Rubin who co-wrote the original screenplay for the 1993 film with Harold Ramis.
Just in case there’s anyone who didn’t see the original film… Phil Connors (Bill Murray) is a jaded TV weatherman – sent to Punxsutawny, PA to cover Groundhog Day – again. On Feb 2nd, according to folklore, if it is cloudy when a groundhog emerges from its burrow then spring will arrive early; if it is sunny, the groundhog will supposedly see its shadow and retreat back into its den, and winter will persist for six more weeks. Phil is nasty to everyone, tries and fails to chat up his director (Andie McDowell) and trapped in town by a blizzard goes to bed and wakes up the next day to find he’s trapped in a time-loop, fated to relive every day as Groundhog Day. Initially fun, it soon palls and he is unable to even commit suicide to stop it. He decides to turn his life around and eventually gets it right, gets the girl, and the time-loop is broken.
How on earth could they transfer this to the stage? Very cleverly as it transpired, and with some great and funny tricks. And Bill Murray IS Phil Connors – who could replace him on stage?
Andy Karl is an award-winning American musical star – and he made his Phil Connors different enough to Bill Murray’s version to win us over instantly. Tall, handsome, suave and slick, and my, doesn’t he know it, yet somehow he’s been sidelined, still a weatherman. His performance was a tour de force, given that he’s on stage for the whole show bar a couple of numbers, and for a large part of that he’s in vest and boxers – always waking up again in that super-twee bedroom in the inn, with that awful cushion he always throws off the bed.
We go through his full day 1. We meet the other tourists staying in the inn, he bumps into a boring old college acquaintance now insurance salesman, Ned Ryerson, he does his broadcast – rather lackadaisically, meets many of the other folk including tart with a heart Nancy, fails to chat up Rita, eventually goes to bed and we all know what happens next. The musical score went back to the beginning too, and it all started again, only Phil was different at first… we got the whole pageantry of the Groundhog Day festival again, everyone did everything exactly the same (nearly). After two iterations of the entire day, the audience would get restless if subjected to it all over and over again. As in the film, the sequence was shortened, focusing on the changes made each day which allowed new scenes to be introduced including a wonderfully funny song where he gets drunk with two hicks. Then things started to take a darker turn.
There were solos for Carlyss Peer as Rita, a wonderful song, Being Nancy, for Georgina Hagen, and Andrew Langtree as Ned Ryerson (always with sheepskin coat, glasses and briefcase) got to sing a lament too. But Andy Karl led the way, with the incredibly energetic ensemble to back him up, each playing multiple roles – tourist, waiter, bartender, groundhog mascot, and ‘Chubby Man’ – a standout turn from Andrew Birch.
The set was amazing, perfectly evoking small town America with the frieze of clapboard houses in the background above a starry sky. The scale of the houses was used to great comedy effect with a remote controlled tiny TV van driving around the stage getting stuck in the blizzard. But it is Phil’s bedroom that was a masterpiece. He gets dressed (again and again), exits through the door on the right, and as he’s walking around to the front, the side walls rotate, and the bed pulls back and he can walk through the door into the breakfast room of the inn – every time! Other props appeared seamlessly, and some real stage magic was performed to allow Phil to commit suicide on one side of the stage and then appear back in bed within seconds!
The songs were fantastic, with Minchin’s sense of humour and irony well to the fore, from touching ballads to marching band. The cast were so energetic, and given that many of them were dressed for winter all the time, they must have been worn out by the end – and there was a well-deserved standing ovation from the audience. We loved it!
If you can get a ticket – GO! (link to the Old Vic here)