Before posting a review of this latest new British musical, it seemed appropriate for me to take a second look, almost four weeks after I saw a very early preview. I admit when Tim Minchin first confirmed he was working with director (and now artistic director of the Old Vic) Matthew Warchus, on a musical of Groundhog Day I was sceptical. Could it really work? I hadn’t been a fan of the film on original release, so wasn’t sure if it would even appeal to me. However, knowing how talented Mr Minchin is and after falling for Matilda (his first stage musical success) upon first seeing it in Stratford-Upon-Avon in 2010, I had all my fingers crossed for this show.
Thankfully, I can categorically say that Groundhog Day has only grown stronger over its preview period and is one of the brightest stars in London theatreland at the moment.
For those unfamiliar with the 1993 film, it centres on Phil Connors, a grouchy, arrogant and rather rude (albeit in an amusing way for us) weatherman, who is grudgingly dispatched to the small American town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania for its day in the country’s spotlight – Groundhog Day! Every 2nd February, all eyes turn to this small community to see the weather prediction of Punxsutawney Phil, a groundhog, who supposedly predicts when spring will arrive. Connors has no time for such silliness and cannot wait to return to civilisation. However, he soon realises he has a terrible problem – the next morning he wakes up on Groundhog Day again and the next day and the next. The question is whether Phil will ever understand what he needs to do in order to break this surreal loop!
It was a bizarre film, but it really does work as a musical. Danny Rubin, who wrote the film, is ideally placed to retell the story in a new medium and combining his script with Minchin’s quick, intelligent, witty lyrics and perfectly pitched emotional music, results in an absolute triumph and possibly my favourite show of 2016.
Building a musical which is based upon repetition of scenes could have resulted in something that felt a bit dull, but the production sparkles from start to end. Once the premise has been established the whole day isn’t repeated. Instead the quick cuts to repeats of certain moments create some wonderfully funny scenes. One in which Phil takes his producer Rita to dinner to try and get her in to bed is just one example, as we see Phil trying to refine the night over a number of occasions with disasterous results!
With such a strong foundation through Rubin, Minchin and Warchus’s direction, the show needed a strong lead actor to bring its central character to life and thanks to this show, I have discovered the brilliance of Andy Karl! He is superb as Phil Connors, bringing every facet of the character to life. He is certainly a character who develops so much over the story and Andy Karl is more than up to the task of conveying everything from his arrogance and somewhat unlikeable behaviour, through to his kinder side, as, whether he can see it or not, Phil starts to care about the town he is trapped in. As an audience you can’t help laughing at some of his antics and find yourself warming to him as the story moves along. I admit I also envied his ability to say anything he felt like, no matter how rude!
The whole ensemble work so hard to bring vibrancy and life to even the smallest of characters, but special mention must go to Carlyss Peer as Rita, the young woman who helps Connors become a better man, along with Andrew Langtree (who as Phil’s old high school classmate delivers one of the most moving songs of the production in the second half) and Georgina Hagen, as Nancy, the young, blonde woman, longing to be seen for more than her looks. She opens the second half with “Nancy”, another of the show’s more heartfelt songs. Crucially for me, most of the catchy songs from this musical have stayed with me over the last few weeks and a cast recording cannot come soon enough!
Credit also must be given to Rob Howell’s fantastically inventive set, full of colour and able to transform the stage quickly from one location to the next. I also loved the comical use of miniature houses and vehicles, particularly in a car chase and also when the news van is caught in the snowstorm. It’s so silly, but so much fun!
Groundhog Day is a wonderful addition to London theatreland and although it’s soon destined for Broadway, I can’t help hoping that perhaps we’ll get to keep it here just a little longer. People deserve the chance the see it and with a current closing date of 17th September that really isn’t very long at all. So, my advice to you is book your tickets quickly, before this production sells out (which is almost certainly guaranteed following its strong reviews). The cast and creative team have managed to bring to life a show which makes you laugh (a lot!), smile and even shed a tear. You leave the Old Vic with a smile on your face, having seen something quite magical. I’d be quite happy if it was Groundhog Day every day! I’m already looking forward to experiencing all again….and again…..!
GroundHog Day continues its run at the Old Vic Theatre until 17th September 2016. Running Time is 2 hours 35 minutes approx. (including a 20 minute interval). For more information and ticket availability visit the theatre’s website: http://www.oldvictheatre.com/whats-on/2016/groundhog-day/