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GROUNDHOG DAY Makes a Solid Case for Repeating Yourself (BROADWAY REVIEW)

GROUNDHOG DAY Makes a Solid Case for Repeating Yourself (BROADWAY REVIEW)

How much would you be able to accomplish if the limits of time did not exist? Would you search for higher meaning, a better understanding of the world and the people in it, or simply get a bit out-of-hand and reckless? So much can happen in an instant, and if we could turn back time (feel free to sing that line, btw), there’s little doubt we’d all change something about our actions in the past. Such is the conceit at the heart of Groundhog Day, the Broadway musical adaptation of the 1993 Bill Murray starrer of the same name, opening Monday, April 17th at the August Wilson Theater in New York City. And that they find the time to accomplish by repeating the past proves the limit does not exist—in the right hands.

Following an Olivier Award-winning run in London, the show has made its way west, bringing Phil Conners’ journey towards self-actualization to a new audience. At the center of the musical adaptation of the 1993 Bill Murray film is a rollicking, bombastic adaptation of the story that sends its cast running, jumping, sliding, and dancing their way into repetitive glory, creating a spectacle and illusion not often seen in stage productions. In this iteration, the playfulness and frivolity of the story are cranked up to eleven that doesn’t shy away from an equal measure of darkness and brutality.

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Featuring a creative team that includes the book writer Danny Rubin (who wrote the film’s screenplay alongside Harold Ramis) and songwriter Tim Minchin (the very funny comedian who also wrote songs for Matilda the Musical whom I SINCERELY hope takes over the titular role on Doctor Who one day), Groundhog Day delights in its visuals, strength of character actors, and the seemingly Herculean feat they’ve overcome in staging a day on constant repeat. Not once does this show feel stale or repetitive even though it literally repeats the same day over and over and over again. And for all its camp and circumstance, the show does well balancing the superficiality of its central character and the reality (relatively speaking) of such an outlandish situation.

A lot of that work falls on the shoulders of its leading man, Andy Karl. Taking a cue from Murray’s interpretation, Karl’s Conners is all frigid ego; he’s a skeptical, real jerk of a know-it-all. Where Murray zigged into arrogant nerd territory, however, Karl has zagged towards a more brotastic interpretation, which works for his brand of small potatoes notoriety as a local weatherman. But the real standout is the physicality with which Karl must play the role: In addition to singing and dancing, the staging’s visual tricks fall squarely on his ability to pull them off and throw himself (sometimes literally) into the next moment. It’s a feat that feels downright magical with its ability to trick your senses.

Groundhog Day August Wilson Theatre Theatre Owned / Operated by Jujamcyn Theaters (Jordan Roth: President; Rocco Landesman: President Emeritus; Paul Libin: Executive Vice President; Jack Viertel: Senior Vice President) Produced by Whistle Pig, Columbia Live Stage, The Dodgers and Michael Watt First performed in London on Wednesday, July 20, 2016 at The Old Vic Theatre Book by Danny Rubin; Music by Tim Minchin; Lyrics by Tim Minchin; Based on the film written by Danny Rubin; Music orchestrated by Christopher Nightingale; Additional music by Christopher Nightingale; Musical Director: David Holcenberg Directed by Matthew Warchus; Choreographed by Peter Darling; Co - Choreographer: Ellen Kane; Additional Movement: Finn Caldwell Scenic Design by Rob Howell; Costume Design by Rob Howell; Lighting Design by Hugh Vanstone; Sound Design by Simon Baker; Video Design by Andrzej Goulding; Hair and Wig Design by Campbell Young Associates General Manager: Bespoke Theatricals; Company Manager: Kate Egan Production Manager: Aurora Productions; Production Stage Manager: David Lober; Stage Manager: Michael Krug Musical Supervisor: Christopher Nightingale Illusions: Paul Kieve Casting: Jim Carnahan Casting; Press Representative: Boneau / Bryan-Brown; Advertising: AKA; Dance Captain: Camden Gonzales Cast Andy Karl Phil Connors Barrett Doss Rita Hanson Heather Ayers Ensemble Kevin Bernard Ensemble Andrew Call Ensemble Gerard Canonico Ensemble Rheaume Crenshaw Ensemble Michael Fatica Ensemble Rebecca Faulkenberry Ensemble Katy Geraghty Broadway debut Ensemble Taylor Iman Jones Broadway debut Ensemble Tari Kelly Ensemble Josh Lamon Ensemble Raymond J. Lee Ensemble Joseph Medeiros Ensemble Sean Montgomery Ensemble William Parry Ensemble Jenna Rubaii Broadway debut Ensemble John Sanders Ensemble Vishal Vaidya Broadway debut Ensemble Travis Waldschmidt Ensemble Swings: Camden Gonzales, Jordan Grubb and Natalie Wisdom

Indeed, the show is both a visual delight and storytelling feat in terms of its staging: what the team has pulled off in this show is nothing short of extraordinary (seriously: give them all the Tony Awards now). You likely will not see another show this year that pulls off this much practical trickery this well. There are so many visual jokes and impressive sleights of hand that make for a truly inventive and original visual performance. To that end, Groundhog Day thrills on a visual level we rarely see on Broadway—everyone will find something to love about this production.

But for all the goodness the show accomplishes, it isn’t without some cringeworthy tendencies—particularly in regards to its women. Barrett Doss brings to the role of Rita Hansen—Doss is fabulous and her abilities cannot be oversold, please put her in more shows—something that was clearly not there in the film script. And while most of the show tends to balance the Hallmark and Hilarious with aplomb, the moments it doesn’t are often centered around attempts at earnestness with its female characters (a song Rita sings about finding her prince is particularly tone-deaf). There’s a clear bit of effort on Minchin and Rubin’s part to add some meat to the bones of the women in the show, but it doesn’t fully sit well within the show’s myriad moving pieces, and some songs, in turn, feel a bit throwaway in their emotional resonance.

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As much is evidenced in the second act-opener, “Playing Nancy”—sung by a woman (played by Rebecca Faulkenberry) seduced by Phil during one of his many Groundhog Days—a tune that ultimately rings hollow and feels shoehorned into the production for the sake of increased female visibility. Why this song, with this woman, at this moment in the story? We get what they were trying to do, but the number left us asking: why should we care about the inner life of Nancy at this moment? Wouldn’t this have been more effective coming earlier in the show, or from someone we’ve spent a bit more time with like Rita, or—heck—even the B&B owner? In their earnestness to contextualize the universality of Phil’s inner struggle and create more space for its women, the show actually plays into the trap they were trying to avoid. A shame, considering such increased female complexity would’ve been a nice balance to all of the at-times excessive number of “hey isn’t sexism hilarious?” jokes.

Groundhog Day August Wilson Theatre Theatre Owned / Operated by Jujamcyn Theaters (Jordan Roth: President; Rocco Landesman: President Emeritus; Paul Libin: Executive Vice President; Jack Viertel: Senior Vice President) Produced by Whistle Pig, Columbia Live Stage, The Dodgers and Michael Watt First performed in London on Wednesday, July 20, 2016 at The Old Vic Theatre Book by Danny Rubin; Music by Tim Minchin; Lyrics by Tim Minchin; Based on the film written by Danny Rubin; Music orchestrated by Christopher Nightingale; Additional music by Christopher Nightingale; Musical Director: David Holcenberg Directed by Matthew Warchus; Choreographed by Peter Darling; Co - Choreographer: Ellen Kane; Additional Movement: Finn Caldwell Scenic Design by Rob Howell; Costume Design by Rob Howell; Lighting Design by Hugh Vanstone; Sound Design by Simon Baker; Video Design by Andrzej Goulding; Hair and Wig Design by Campbell Young Associates General Manager: Bespoke Theatricals; Company Manager: Kate Egan Production Manager: Aurora Productions; Production Stage Manager: David Lober; Stage Manager: Michael Krug Musical Supervisor: Christopher Nightingale Illusions: Paul Kieve Casting: Jim Carnahan Casting; Press Representative: Boneau / Bryan-Brown; Advertising: AKA; Dance Captain: Camden Gonzales Cast Andy Karl Phil Connors Barrett Doss Rita Hanson Heather Ayers Ensemble Kevin Bernard Ensemble Andrew Call Ensemble Gerard Canonico Ensemble Rheaume Crenshaw Ensemble Michael Fatica Ensemble Rebecca Faulkenberry Ensemble Katy Geraghty Broadway debut Ensemble Taylor Iman Jones Broadway debut Ensemble Tari Kelly Ensemble Josh Lamon Ensemble Raymond J. Lee Ensemble Joseph Medeiros Ensemble Sean Montgomery Ensemble William Parry Ensemble Jenna Rubaii Broadway debut Ensemble John Sanders Ensemble Vishal Vaidya Broadway debut Ensemble Travis Waldschmidt Ensemble Swings: Camden Gonzales, Jordan Grubb and Natalie Wisdom

The show’s ensemble cast is a delightful gaggle of Broadway character actors that color the world of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania with sweet earnestness. Every single member has their time in the sun, with a particular standout being resident town drunks Ralph and Gus (played by Raymond J Lee and Andrew Call, respectively) and their fuck-it-all theme, “Nobody Cares.” We won’t spoil it for you, but the tune is not only sure to get stuck in your head, but you’ll be replaying its staging in your mind’s eye for weeks to come (also: Lee is a hilariously drunken joy to watch on stage and we can’t wait to see more from him).

While the musical’s website posits the show’s runtime as 2:30, the previews production we saw ran just about 3—which felt too long entirely. The show drags in the beginning to set up its characters and its premise; with any luck some tightening has occurred since we saw the show on April 6th. Still, regardless of its issues, there are far worse ways to spend your Broadway dollars than checking out Groundhog Day. If nothing else, the show is guaranteed to force a lot of Broadway shows to up their staging ante and leave a smile on your face time and time again.

Groundhog Day August Wilson Theatre Theatre Owned / Operated by Jujamcyn Theaters (Jordan Roth: President; Rocco Landesman: President Emeritus; Paul Libin: Executive Vice President; Jack Viertel: Senior Vice President) Produced by Whistle Pig, Columbia Live Stage, The Dodgers and Michael Watt First performed in London on Wednesday, July 20, 2016 at The Old Vic Theatre Book by Danny Rubin; Music by Tim Minchin; Lyrics by Tim Minchin; Based on the film written by Danny Rubin; Music orchestrated by Christopher Nightingale; Additional music by Christopher Nightingale; Musical Director: David Holcenberg Directed by Matthew Warchus; Choreographed by Peter Darling; Co - Choreographer: Ellen Kane; Additional Movement: Finn Caldwell Scenic Design by Rob Howell; Costume Design by Rob Howell; Lighting Design by Hugh Vanstone; Sound Design by Simon Baker; Video Design by Andrzej Goulding; Hair and Wig Design by Campbell Young Associates General Manager: Bespoke Theatricals; Company Manager: Kate Egan Production Manager: Aurora Productions; Production Stage Manager: David Lober; Stage Manager: Michael Krug Musical Supervisor: Christopher Nightingale Illusions: Paul Kieve Casting: Jim Carnahan Casting; Press Representative: Boneau / Bryan-Brown; Advertising: AKA; Dance Captain: Camden Gonzales Cast Andy Karl Phil Connors Barrett Doss Rita Hanson Heather Ayers Ensemble Kevin Bernard Ensemble Andrew Call Ensemble Gerard Canonico Ensemble Rheaume Crenshaw Ensemble Michael Fatica Ensemble Rebecca Faulkenberry Ensemble Katy Geraghty Broadway debut Ensemble Taylor Iman Jones Broadway debut Ensemble Tari Kelly Ensemble Josh Lamon Ensemble Raymond J. Lee Ensemble Joseph Medeiros Ensemble Sean Montgomery Ensemble William Parry Ensemble Jenna Rubaii Broadway debut Ensemble John Sanders Ensemble Vishal Vaidya Broadway debut Ensemble Travis Waldschmidt Ensemble Swings: Camden Gonzales, Jordan Grubb and Natalie Wisdom

Oh, and more Tim Minchin doing all of the things, please.

We’re giving Groundhog Day 3 out of 5 musical burritos:

3-burritos3

Images: Joan Marcus for Groundhog Day: The Musical

Alicia Lutes is the Managing Editor of Nerdist, Creator/host of Fangirling!, and a total Broadway baby. Find her on Twitter!

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