There’s not much to say about the Groundhog Day musical excepts that it delivers the expected package. I entered Groundhog Day musical at the August Wilson Theater, forecasting a three-out-of-four stars romp. With the fondly remembered 1993 Bill Murray classic movie to work off, all motions in the musical are the identical blueprints of the movie, though it has all the charm it can give for a theatrical stage production with a talented team.
While I’m tired of a trend of non-musicals movies being converted into stage musicals (with the exception of movies like Billy Elliot that at least had explicit stage elements translatable to live musicals), Groundhog Day at least adapts a non-musical movie that lends itself well to musical material, with the premise involving the motif of repetition. Overall, the production compresses all the scenarios, lifted from the movie, that a man in a magical unexplained time-loop would undergo, from existential denial, to hedonist consequence-free pursuits, to suicidal attempts, to time-killing philanthropy.
Phil Connors (Andy Karl), a cynical weatherman, returns to the small-town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to cover the Groundhog Day festival, an annual routine which he so loathes. When he’s not complaining about his dead-end job or moaning about leaving ASAP, he’s making passes at the producer Rita, who bears his assholery with patience and irritation. But the town is snowed-in, and he is forced to spend another night, only to wake up to the same Groundhog Day again and again, reliving déjà vus of the minuscule details, to the point where he attunes himself to the everyday choreography of the policeman dropping his holster and the scripts of the townspeople quips.
But admittedly Act 1, while well-focused on the plot motions, does not quite gel with the entertainment. Some of the ha-ha moments, with Danny Rubin reprising his screenplay authorial-ship with the musical’s book, do not age well. Haha, misogynistic hedonistic weatherman making passes at co-worker. Even the most amusing number, “Stuck,” where he turns to unhelpful quark doctors and priest to cure his “stuckness,” feels oversaturated with Tim Minchin’s assaultive rhymes.
But the passable-ness of Act 1 somehow skillfully allows the heart to kick in at the start of Act 2’s opening number “Playing Nancy,” performed by Rebecca Faulkenberry, giving a memorable limelight to what seemed like a disposable female character, which sets up the tint of existentialism and heart to segue into the plot, and a number that pleads for the audience to see that despite the surface-level hickness of the townspeople, perhaps we should be encourage to see their nuances.
Andy Karl as the leading man is a walking fun, bouncing from egotistical humor to pathos, and once the character settles into despair and solemnness, he avoids sacrificing his humorous edge along the way. Jenna Rubai, the Rita of the Sunday matinee, also has a cheery charm, while also being no-nonsense. The ensemble cast do get their points to shine, with Sean Montogomery (matinee understudy) as the perky insurance salesman Ned Ryerson singing a few comedic jingles before having his own melancholy solo.
And with the team of Matilda the Musical reunited for this production, the scenic design is unsurprisingly atmospheric and aesthetically pleasing, fashioning an intimate small town without overplaying its quirks. The massive stage turntable does its swift job at showing the momentum of Phil’s cyclical day-by-day world. Peter Darling’s choreography is eye-catching as expected. While Tim Minchin’s lyricism is not on par with the smartly Roald Dahl-realm of his wickedly clever wordplay and rhymes in Matilda the Musical, his score is still serviceably and jazzily ear-wormy and echoing with tints of the right quirks in its comedic tone.
Although I wish its Act 1 promised me a better romp, I was grinning after Act 2.