Tim Minchin Does It Again With Groundhog Day Musical

Groundhog Day ★★★★★

Franco Milazzo
By Franco Milazzo Last edited 23 months ago

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Tim Minchin Does It Again With Groundhog Day Musical Groundhog Day 5
Andy Karl (Phil Connors) in Groundhog Day at The Old Vic.
Andy Karl (Phil Connors) in Groundhog Day at The Old Vic.

Groundhog Day The Musical shouldn’t really work. The idea of musically recreating the 'classic' 1993 comedy without its star Bill Murray is possibly as fanciful as the film’s plot, especially considering that London has a woeful track record in silver screen-to-stage shows. One only has to look at the stinking pile of mediocrities that are Mrs Henderson Presents, Kinky Boots and Breakfast At Tiffany’s to know how bad things can get.

To be fair, this production — which received its world premiere at the Old Vic last week — is a marriage made in heaven between the film’s writer Danny Rubin and many of those who made a hit out of London’s last great film-to-stage musical, Matilda.

The story is effectively an existentialist fairytale. Phil Connors, a misanthropic weatherman, is sent to cover the annual Groundhog Day ceremony in Gobbler's Knob, just outside the small US town of Punxsutawney. A blizzard prevents Connors and his team leaving for home until the next day. When Connors wakes up the following morning, he finds it is Groundhog Day again and comes to realise that he is fated to relive the same 24 hours over and over forever — or is he?

Andy Karl (Phil Connors) and Carlyss Peer (Rita Hanson) in Groundhog Day at The Old Vic.
Andy Karl (Phil Connors) and Carlyss Peer (Rita Hanson) in Groundhog Day at The Old Vic.

The big name here is Tim Minchin, the witty singer-songwriter-actor-rationalist who won over the Edinburgh Fringe in 2005 and has since steamrollered his way to West End success. That his latest production is ambitious and destined for bigger stages is in no doubt: Groundhog Day The Musical already has a Broadway run pencilled in for March 2017 and the critical reaction from the London press has been largely orgasmic.

Joining Minchin is a sizeable contingent who worked with him on Matilda, not least that show's director Matthew Warchus, as well as its choreographers and musical supervisor and the designers of its set, costume, sound, lighting and magical illusions. We’d be frankly surprised if Matilda’s tea boy isn’t somewhere back there too.

Jumping into Murray’s shoes is Andy Karl, an American TV and stage actor. He's not well known in these parts but he already has two Tony Award nominations under his belt including one for playing the lead on Broadway in boxing songfest Rocky The Musical. While Murray played the time-looping Phil Connors as an irascible and middle-aged ego on legs, Karl’s take is more hunky boy-next-door who wants for nought and can’t see past his penis.

Famed writer Stephen Sondheim famously had his doubts about doing what Minchin and Rubin have done, saying in 2008 that “to make a musical of Groundhog Day would be to gild the lily. It cannot be improved.” The net result is that, while Rubin keeps Groundhog Day grounded and true to its original wacky self, Minchin and company add heart and emotional depth, not least to the role of Connor’s love interest, Rita Hanson which, in the film, was barely deeper than a desert puddle.

Andrew Langtree (Ned Ryerson) in Groundhog Day at The Old Vic.
Andrew Langtree (Ned Ryerson) in Groundhog Day at The Old Vic.

Played in the musical by English actor Carlyss Peer, Hanson’s character is rounded out through song and – while still very much a supporting role – gains a substantial level of resonance. Rita admits she doesn’t know what she wants from a man but, damn it, we all want her to get it. Karl and Peer play their roles flawlessly and, by the end, we’re thoroughly invested in these two.

Minchin’s lyrics and Rubin’s script (based on his and Ramis's original screenplay) thankfully embrace the adult nature of the film. There won’t be too many musicals this year, or any other, that has an extended medley of suicides or a song which rhymes “no reception” with “pointless erection”. There are more than a few memorable melodies even if the eponymous number is ten pounds of schmaltz packed into a one pound bag.

Like Sondheim, we had our doubts about whether this production would manage to avoid joining the list of notable failures elsewhere, even with the impressive backstage team on board. Groundhog Day The Musical shouldn’t really work. The idea of musically recreating the classic 1993 comedy without its star Bill Murray is possibly as fanciful as the film’s plot, especially considering that London has a woeful track record in silver screen-to-stage shows. One only has to look at the stinking pile of mediocrities that are Mrs Henderson Presents, Kinky Boots and Breakfast At Tiffany’s to know how bad things can get.

To be fair, this production — which received its world premiere at the Old Vic last week — is a marriage made in heaven between the film’s writer Danny Rubin and many of those who made a hit out of London’s last great film-to-stage musical, Matilda.

Andy Karl (Phil Connors) and Carlyss Peer (Rita Hanson) in Groundhog Day at The Old Vic.
Andy Karl (Phil Connors) and Carlyss Peer (Rita Hanson) in Groundhog Day at The Old Vic.

The story is effectively an existentialist fairytale. Phil Connors, a misanthropic weatherman, is sent to cover the annual Groundhog Day ceremony in Gobbler's Knob, just outside the small US town of Punxsutawney. A blizzard prevents Connors and his team leaving for home until the next day. When Connors wakes up the following morning, he finds it is Groundhog Day again and comes to realise that he is fated to relive the same 24 hours over and over forever — or is he?

The big name here is Tim Minchin, the witty singer-songwriter-actor-rationalist who won over the Edinburgh Fringe in 2005 and has since steamrollered his way to West End success. That his latest production is ambitious and destined for bigger stages is in no doubt: Groundhog Day The Musical already has a Broadway run pencilled in for March 2017 and the critical reaction from the London press has been largely orgasmic.

Joining Minchin is a sizeable contingent who worked with him on Matilda, not least that show's director Matthew Warchus, as well as its choreographers and musical supervisor and the designers of its set, costume, sound, lighting and magical illusions. We’d be frankly surprised if Matilda’s tea boy isn’t somewhere back there too.

Jumping into Murray’s shoes is Andy Karl, an American TV and stage actor. He's not well known in these parts but he already has two Tony Award nominations under his belt including one for playing the lead on Broadway in boxing songfest Rocky The Musical. While Murray played the time-looping Phil Connors as an irascible and middle-aged ego on legs, Karl’s take is more hunky boy-next-door who wants for nought and can’t see past his penis.

Famed writer Stephen Sondheim famously had his doubts about doing what Minchin and Rubin have done, saying in 2008 that “to make a musical of Groundhog Day would be to gild the lily. It cannot be improved.” The net result is that, while Rubin keeps Groundhog Day grounded and true to its original wacky self, Minchin and company add heart and emotional depth, not least to the role of Connor’s love interest, Rita Hanson which, in the film, was barely deeper than a desert puddle.

Andrew Langtree (Ned Ryerson) in Groundhog Day at The Old Vic.
Andrew Langtree (Ned Ryerson) in Groundhog Day at The Old Vic.

Played in the musical by English actor Carlyss Peer, Hanson’s character is rounded out through song and – while still very much a supporting role – gains a substantial level of resonance. Rita admits she doesn’t know what she wants from a man but, damn it, we all want her to get it. Karl and Peer play their roles flawlessly and, by the end, we’re thoroughly invested in these two.

Minchin’s lyrics and Rubin’s script (based on his and Ramis's original screenplay) thankfully embrace the adult nature of the film. There won’t be too many musicals this year, or any other, that has an extended medley of suicides or a song which rhymes “no reception” with “pointless erection”. There are more than a few memorable melodies even if the eponymous number is ten pounds of schmaltz packed into a one pound bag.

Like Sondheim, we had our doubts about whether this production would manage to avoid joining the list of notable failures elsewhere, even with the impressive backstage team on board. Groundhog Day The Musical shouldn’t really work. The idea of musically recreating the classic 1993 comedy without its star Bill Murray is possibly as fanciful as the film’s plot, especially considering that London has a woeful track record in silver screen-to-stage shows. One only has to look at the stinking pile of mediocrities that are Mrs Henderson Presents, Kinky Boots and Breakfast At Tiffany’s to know how bad things can get.

To be fair, this production — which received its world premiere at the Old Vic last week — is a marriage made in heaven between the film’s writer Danny Rubin and many of those who made a hit out of London’s last great film-to-stage musical, Matilda.

The story is effectively an existentialist fairytale. Phil Connors, a misanthropic weatherman, is sent to cover the annual Groundhog Day ceremony in Gobbler's Knob, just outside the small US town of Punxsutawney. A blizzard prevents Connors and his team leaving for home until the next day. When Connors wakes up the following morning, he finds it is Groundhog Day again and comes to realise that he is fated to relive the same 24 hours over and over forever — or is he?

Andy Karl (Phil Connors) and Carlyss Peer (Rita Hanson) in Groundhog Day at The Old Vic.
Andy Karl (Phil Connors) and Carlyss Peer (Rita Hanson) in Groundhog Day at The Old Vic.

The big name here is Tim Minchin, the witty singer-songwriter-actor-rationalist who won over the Edinburgh Fringe in 2005 and has since steamrollered his way to West End success. That his latest production is ambitious and destined for bigger stages is in no doubt: Groundhog Day The Musical already has a Broadway run pencilled in for March 2017 and the critical reaction from the London press has been largely orgasmic.

Joining Minchin is a sizeable contingent who worked with him on Matilda, not least that show's director Matthew Warchus, as well as its choreographers and musical supervisor and the designers of its set, costume, sound, lighting and magical illusions. We’d be frankly surprised if Matilda’s tea boy isn’t somewhere back there too.

Jumping into Murray’s shoes is Andy Karl, an American TV and stage actor. He's not well known in these parts but he already has two Tony Award nominations under his belt including one for playing the lead on Broadway in boxing songfest Rocky The Musical. While Murray played the time-looping Phil Connors as an irascible and middle-aged ego on legs, Karl’s take is more hunky boy-next-door who wants for nought and can’t see past his penis.

Famed writer Stephen Sondheim famously had his doubts about doing what Minchin and Rubin have done, saying in 2008 that “to make a musical of Groundhog Day would be to gild the lily. It cannot be improved.” The net result is that, while Rubin keeps Groundhog Day grounded and true to its original wacky self, Minchin and company add heart and emotional depth, not least to the role of Connor’s love interest, Rita Hanson which, in the film, was barely deeper than a desert puddle.

Andrew Langtree (Ned Ryerson) in Groundhog Day at The Old Vic.
Andrew Langtree (Ned Ryerson) in Groundhog Day at The Old Vic.

Played in the musical by English actor Carlyss Peer, Hanson’s character is rounded out through song and – while still very much a supporting role – gains a substantial level of resonance. Rita admits she doesn’t know what she wants from a man but, damn it, we all want her to get it. Karl and Peer play their roles flawlessly and, by the end, we’re thoroughly invested in these two.

Minchin’s lyrics and Rubin’s script (based on his and Ramis's original screenplay) thankfully embrace the adult nature of the film. There won’t be too many musicals this year, or any other, that has an extended medley of suicides or a song which rhymes “no reception” with “pointless erection”. There are more than a few memorable melodies even if the eponymous number is ten pounds of schmaltz packed into a one pound bag.

Like Sondheim, we had our doubts about whether this inventive, dazzling and hilarious production would manage to avoid joining the list of notable failures elsewhere, even with the impressive backstage team on board. We no longer have those doubts. We can only hope that London musical theatre itself has some kind of Groundhog Day, iteratively improving its output across the capital, show by show, venue by venue.

Groundhog Dog continues at The Old Vic until 17 September. Ticket availability (almost none) and prices can be found on the official website.

Londonist saw this production on press tickets, and at an event hosted by the Old Vic's season partners, Waterford Crystal in collaboration with 'Mark's Bar' by Mark Hix serving glamorous cocktails in the famous crystal glasses.

Last Updated 26 September 2016