Tuesday, May 23, 2017

“Groundhog Day The Musical” delights on Broadway

“Groundhog Day The Musical” has had a somewhat rough path to Broadway.  The show, with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, and book by Danny Rubin, which is based on the hit 1993 film by Rubin and Harold Ramis, opened in 2016 in London and all went well.  Reviews were good, attendance was solid, and it seemed like the legend of Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog who holds the secret of whether those in the eastern US will have a short or long winter, was going to have smooth sailing into its Broadway burrow.

That prognosis was wrong!  The first scheduled preview in New York had to be stopped because of technical difficulties in getting the revolving stage to work.  Then, on the April 14 preview night, Andy Karl, who was reprising his leading man role from the English production, tore his anterior cruciate ligament during one of the show-stopping numbers.  He hobbled through the rest of that performance with the aid of a cane and was replaced by his understudy for the rest of the previews.  Rumors ran rampant that the show would close before it opened.  But, true to the old adage, “The show must go on,” Karl returned on opening night to positive reviews. 

Things seemed to right themselves after that and the musical, which has been praised as “So much fun it should be illegal,” has gone on to garner seven 2017 Tony Award nominations, including one for Karl as the Best Performance in a Musical, as well as recognition for best musical, book, direction, original score, choreography and scene design.

“Groundhog Day The Musical” basically follows the plot of the Bill Murry, Andie MacDowell hit movie which, in 2006, was added to the United States National Film Registry as the #8 in the top ten greatest films in the fantasy genre.

The story centers on weatherman Phil Connors (Andy Karl).   Phil, he of good looks, an attitude of self-importance and unbridled egotism, finds himself assigned, by his Pittsburgh based TV station, to go to Punxsutawney, PA to do a special report on the annual Groundhog Day Ceremony. 

He reluctantly arrives, checks into a B&B, and goes to bed.  From there on any semblance of normality in his life ends! 

Phil wakes up the next day, drinks some terrible coffee, goes to Gobbler’s Knob, where the ceremony is to take place, and meets Larry (Vishal Vaidya) the cameraman and Rita (Barrett Doss) his newbie producer.  He does his lack-luster recap of the event, goes to eat lunch, finds out that a snowstorm is blocking his return to Pittsburgh, and stays the night at the B&B.  The next day turns out to be a duplicate of yesterday, and the following day turns out to be the same as the day before, and the following day . . ..  Phil is caught in a time warp, with no escape.    

As happens in all romantic fantasy musical comedies, Phil and Rita fall into lust and love.  A transformation takes place when he becomes a nice guy helping townsfolk, does a positive promo about the town and its festival, and even though the route has finally cleared to return, he spends the day with Rita and watches the sun rise on the next day.  As one of the show’s songs states, “There Will Be Sun.”

The show, under the astute direction of Matthew Warchus, who has directed such Tony award winning shows as “Art,” “Boeing, Boeing” and “Matilda,” delights with imaginative staging.

One of the shows highlights is a car chase in which a car is built before the audience’s eyes, then transforms into a mini-remote control auto which dashes around the stage.  The audience reaction was explosive delight.

The cast is strong, singing and dancing and performing with great skill. 

Andy Karl lives up to his advance billing as Phil.  Still operating with a leg brace due to that rehearsal injury, he surprisingly moves and dances freely.  His voice is strong and sense of comic timing excellent.  His displays of self-love are hilarious, and his double takes, charming.  His Tony nomination for Best Actor in a Musical is well earned.

Barrett Doss inhabits the role of Rita.  She sings, dances and performs with certainty and believability. 

It’s always an added treat when, as a Cleveland-based reviewer, there is a CLE connection to a Broadway production.  In the case of “Groundhog Day,” the hook is Matthew and Michael Rego and Hank Unger, The Araca Group (www.araca.com).  They formed their production team in 1997, producing shows, selling theatrical merchandise and staging live entertainment and theatrical events on Broadway and around the world.  They have been involved with such hit shows as “Urinetown,” “Wicked,” “’night mother,” “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” and “Rock of Ages.”   (Honesty disclosure:  Mike, Matt and Hank met when they were involved in a production of “The Music Man” which I directed some years ago.)
Capsule judgement:  Though it doesn’t reach the comic levels of the film version of the tale, “Groundhog Day The Musical” delights.  It’s the kind of show that will entertain Broadway audiences and will be a hit when the sure to come national tour hits the road. 
Where: August Wilson Theatre, 245 West 52nd Street
Open ended run
Matinees: Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday
Evenings:  Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday