“Groundhog Day” Sees Shadow on Broadway—Predicts 8 Shows a Week of Glorious Entertainment

“Groundhog Day” Sees Shadow on Broadway—Predicts 8 Shows a Week of Glorious Entertainment

Andy Karl as Phil Connors in "Groundhog Day" (©Manuel Harlan)

Groundhog Day,” the new Broadway musical based on the hit movie comedy from 1993, follows pompous weatherman Phil Connors (Andy Karl) as he begrudgingly covers the annual Groundhog Day celebrations in Punxsutawney, PA, and then finds himself repeating that same day over and over and over again.  

This show transfers to the Great White Way after a critically acclaimed world premiere at The Old Vic in London, also starring Karl. Danny Rubin, writer of the film’s original script, wrote the book for “Groundhog Day,” while Tim Minchin (the Australian comedian/composer and lyricist behind “Matilda the Musical”) did the music.

I grew up watching the film version of “Groundhog Day” and was excited to see how the repetitive aspects of the plot would unfold on stage. Director Matthew Warchus, reunited with his “Matilda” choreographer Peter Darling, has crafted a cleverly executed series of sequences that allow repeated scenes to stay fresh and let audiences easily distinguish passage of time—all while simultaneously pulling off some impressive and deceptive staging, thanks to Paul Kieve’s illusions and Rob Howell’s scenic and costume designs.

As the story unfolds, so does Phil’s mental state, causing the action to rise and fall with his stability. When there is likely no tomorrow, Phil can do whatever he wants for the day, so he takes advantage of everyone and everything—at first solely for his own benefit, but then he realizes that doing things for other people feels good too. Through the music, audiences get a peek inside everything going on in Phil’s mind as he is forced to relive Groundhog Day in Small Town, USA. Minchin’s songs provide this stage adaptation with an extra edge of darkness and complexity to balance out the romantic comedy plot of the story.

Good thing it’s dark in the theater because I had the goofiest grin on my face during this show. I was living for the sight gags (that van!) and love it when a rotating stage adds plot-driving motion to a scene—the car chase and Tilt-A-Whirl sequences were among my favorites. The controlled wrecklessness of Phil, Gus (Andrew Call) and Ralph’s (Raymond J. Lee) drunken joyride through town showcased the whimsy and ingenuity of props that you can’t get from any other medium than theater. And that Tilt-A-Whirl scene… well, let’s just say my heart skipped a beat when Phil locked his gaze on Rita (Barrett Doss) amid the twirling and swirling of the ride’s cars about the stage. He may have physically been in motion, but in that moment, Phil was still. As an audience member, I wanted to relive that beat over and over and over again.

If you’ve never seen Andy Karl (back-to-back Tony Award nominee for "Rocky the Musical" and "On the Twentieth Century") on stage before, this is the perfect show for your introduction to his masterful ability to play both a self-righteous jerkface and a goodwill-dispensing mensch, all while nailing the heightened physical comedy and precise choreography this show requires of its entire ensemble. Karl’s strength as a leading man doesn’t just come from his impressive stage presence (those are very nice muscles and boxers, sir), but also from his character’s believably vulnerable moments. Phil Connors tries to act like a “nice guy” before he actually is a nice guy and Karl pulls Phil’s transformation off with aplomb.

The stage show has a feminist slant that the movie doesn’t, giving its women characters more to do—and sing about. While “Groundhog Day” still revolves around Phil, I was really rooting for Rita—the associate producer who is forced to put up with her narcissistic weatherman’s shenanigans. Not only does Rita get to rock flat shoes and pants—proper attire for a wintery on-location shoot—but because this is a musical, we get to hear her point of view about things through great songs that she sings (“February 2nd,” “One Day” and “If I Had My Time Again”) instead of experiencing this character completely from Phil’s point of view. It also doesn’t hurt that Doss is a perfect onstage match for Karl and their chemistry is palpable. From their bickering to more meaningful conversations, these two are a joy to watch play off of each other. 

I’m grateful for Rubin and Minchin’s updates to the plot via script and song, making this adaptation more hip to female empowerment and gender equality on a whole. I appreciated how realistically Rita shuts down Phil’s unwanted advances, making her one of the most relatable contemporary leading ladies in musical theater. She knows who she is and what she wants and I love that she's not going to compromise herself in the process. Even eye-candy Nancy, played by Rebecca Faulkenberry, gets to sing about sexist stereotypes in “Playing Nancy,” and it completely shifts the dynamic of that character. (Just because a character is a love interest doesn’t mean they can’t have depth too.)

Now in previews at the August Wilson Theatre, “Groundhog Day” officially opens on April 17, 2017. I, for one, can’t wait to experience “Groundhog Day” again (and again and again… seriously, I plan to see this show as many times as I can—I genuinely loved it). Get your tickets here!

Andy Karl (center), as Phil Connors, with ensemble in "Groundhog Day" (©Manuel Harlan)

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