Theatre Reflections – Farewell to the glorious Groundhog Day! London will miss you.

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I rarely write about the same show twice, but if you are going to revisit the same production, what better one than Groundhog Day? Having been lucky enough to nab a ticket for tonight’s final London show during public booking, and the front row no less, I couldn’t let the moment pass without reflecting on what has become one of my most loved shows.

I fully admit, I did not think I’d like it. I’d seen the film and hadn’t been that bothered about it in 1993. How on earth would it ever work without being excruciating and irritating? I am however a huge admirer of Tim Minchin and his ability to make words funny, sharp, cutting, but also deeply emotive. I’d loved Matilda and so curiosity made me buy my first ticket for an early July preview.

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My hopes were raised when at a night at the Old Vic, before the musical opened, Mr Minchin sang “On and On” (or Ned’s song) and “Seeing You”, as well as bringing the brave Georgina Hagen down from the circle to sing “Nancy”! All three songs were wonderful and all my fingers were tightly crossed that perhaps this new musical could be something special.

Seeing as tonight was my fourth trip to the show, you can guess what my reaction was! There are so many wonderful aspects to Groundhog Day as a musical. You get to know the community in a way you can’t in the film (which I actually rewatched this weekend to find I really do prefer the stage show) and I genuinely think Andy Karl’s portrayal of Phil Connors really is that of a man who you see change for the better. I don’t really think that about the film. He may get a bit nicer, but I could easily see him reverting back after a while! During this musical, you see Phil Connors the unlikeable, arrogant man he is to begin with, become someone who learns to appreciate those around him and how life is worth living; we just need to live it as the best person we can possibly be. It’s a powerful, uplifting message from a show that so beautifully moves from a very, very funny show in the first half, to one with a strikingly moving and emotional second act, culminating in its heart-warming and hopeful ending.

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Andy Karl & Andrew Langtree

The script is wonderfully written by Danny Rubin, who picks out all the best bits from the screen and the builds on them to make the overall story richer in so many ways. I love that Larry the cameraman gets a happy ending here and seeing the story of Ned’s life is one of the most moving moments of the piece (special mention to Andrew Langtree whose beautiful rendition of his song struck a chord with me every time).

I also love Rob Howell’s set. The deconstructed bedroom, which starts to fracture as Phil begins to lose his mind is very effective and I love the colourful wall backdrops for the bars and café. There’s colour and sparkle with each set change and the floor revolve allows time to pass visually at certain moments too. Congratulations to Paul Kieve too for some wonderful illusions. I admit, I think I’ve worked them all out now, but the reaction you have to them on first viewing is fantastic!

Together with such brilliant music and lyrics, which get cleverer every time you hear them, it’s the perfect combination. There’s a country-style song, one that’s more of a rock number and some quieter more reflective pieces too, which with songs such as “Nancy” still manage to highlight some important issues in society, while remaining witty and engaging. Not many people could get the balance right, but that’s the genius of Tim Minchin for you.

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The brilliantly funny bar scene!

The ensemble cast are wonderful, bringing even the smallest character to life, to add another layer to Punxsutawney. Georgina Hagen makes us think again about the ditzy blonde, the comedic timing of the three actors in the bar scene bring to life one of the funniest parts of the show and Carlyss Peer brings Rita up to date for today’s audience, as a woman who isn’t going to easily fall for Phil’s lines and would rather be alone than in a relationship without love. Huge credit must however go to Andy Karl. I hadn’t heard of him before seeing the show (a crime I know, but all his stage work has been in the States), but he’s certainly made quite an impression on London theatreland and I now cannot imagine anyone else in the role of Phil Connors. It’s such a brilliant performance. Every facial expression, exasperated and sarcastic line, not to mention capturing the wit, arrogance and emerging heart of this man. You really do like him by the end and the moment he realises the next day has arrived is so lovely, it brings a tear to my eye.

The affection London has for him and all the cast was clear in the Old Vic tonight. It was such a special atmosphere, as we said farewell to a show that I dearly wish was staying much longer than two months. During the final curtain call, the cast threw buckets of fake snow over Andy Karl, who in turn threw it on the conductor, before saying a final farewell to the stage by making a snow angel!

The show now heads to Broadway, arriving at the August Wilson Theatre (formerly the home of The Jersey Boys) for previews, before opening on 17th April 2017. All I can say is that I hope New York appreciates it. To whet your appetite here’s a couple of videos, the first is of Ms Hagen singing “Nancy”  https://youtu.be/tzJ3n1Mf1dM and the second is Tim Minchin singing “Seeing You” https://youtu.be/2hwE-dgis6Y – I can only hope a London cast recording will become a reality!

Oh and in case you were wondering – the chance of me heading to NYC to see the show there? – 100%!

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