August Wilson Theatre
“Groundhog Day,” the endlessly inventive and entertaining new musical that just opened at the August Wilson Theatre in New York, proves to be a real joy. Based on the 1993 film of the same name, which starred Bill Murray (and which I did not see before attending the musical), “Groundhog Day” boasts an amazing, eye-opening star performance by Andy Karl in the leading role. Karl has been in the news quite a bit, lately, having injured his knee during a preview performance, and this actor’s strength and his “the show must go on” fortitude is highly commended, and deservedly so. Still, this musical can also be recommended for a whole host of other assets, besides the star’s strong portrayal. The score by Tim Minchin is tuneful and quite terrific, and Danny Rubin has written a solid, endearing book (based on his original screenplay). Just about all the elements come together beautifully in “Groundhog Day” and this is truly a show to take to your heart.
For those who are unfamiliar with the plot of this show, it is about a rather smug, sarcastic weatherman, named Phil Connors, who goes to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to cover Groundhog Day and finds himself caught in a time warp where every day is Groundhog Day and he must relive the same day over and over again. One would think that watching the same day unfold numerous times would render the musical rather tedious, but the creators of this show actually transform this conceit into an asset: as an audience member, you hang onto your seat and can’t wait to see what will happen next to Phil Connors.
The creators of this show are quite fortunate to have such an ingratiating, handsome, and super-talented actor as Andy Karl playing Phil Connors. I have seen this actor do fine work in about a half dozen other shows, but he really comes into his own in “Groundhog Day.” Even at his most obnoxious, you root for Karl and hope that he will find a way out of the time warp he is stuck in. Andy Karl is currently giving one of the finest performances on Broadway, and he deserves an extra cheer for performing the show with a knee brace (which one is able to see at various moments during the show). Bravo!
The supporting company in “Groundhog Day” is also quite good, though this cast really works more as an ensemble, with not very many actors, besides Karl, really standing out. Still, as Phil Connors’ associate producer, Rita, Barrett Doss is quite grand, reminding one a bit of Audra McDonald, but displaying her own unique qualities, as well. As the show goes on, you can see Phil relying on her more and more, and Doss proves to be a winning and warm leading lady. As for the rest the cast, Rebecca Faulkenberry, as one of the women in town, gets a notable song, called “Playing Nancy,” which she performs quite well. Still, as nice as this song is, it doesn’t really belong in this show and actually impedes the opening of the second act.
Still, this is a rare misstep in a musical that is, by all other accounts, quite wonderful. Director Matthew Warchus does a brilliant job of staging this show and he also works quite well with his choreographers, Peter Darling and Ellen Kane. The set design and the costume design (both by the estimable Rob Howell) for “Groundhog Day” are pretty magnificent and it is notable that, at the performance I attended, the set moved smoothly throughout (there had been troubles with the set malfunctioning during previews). Lighting designer, Hugh Vanstone, does a great job, as well, and this is one musical that feels entirely seamless.
In a show blessed in so many departments, Tim Minchin’s score is especially pleasurable (with excellent orchestrations by Christopher Nightingale) and, amazingly, considering how many times the same day plays over and over again in this show, there are relatively few reprises. But, if there is a real hero in “Groundhog Day,” it is the marvelous Andy Karl in the lead, who makes this extremely physical role look relatively easy. “Groundhog Day,” at the August Wilson Theatre is quite a musical and it is actually so good, that it almost makes you want to become a better person.
“Groundhog Day” continues performances at the August Wilson Theatre on Broadway. For tickets, please visit www.GroundhogDayMusical.com or call Ticketmaster at 877-256-2929.
Photo: Andy Karl
Photo by Manuel Harlan