As Broadway musicals go, the small scale charmer of a flick Groundhog Day doesn’t seem the most obvious of inspiring sources. The comedic drama relies heavily on Bill Murray’s ability to deliver a stinging blow that is somehow forgivable. With the film’s move to the stage, that burden falls on Olivier Award winner Andy Karl as weatherman Phil Conners. He is charismatic and a joy to watch, but his wonderful performance isn’t quite enough to balance out the slightness of the material. The overall experience is theatrical cotton candy: ultimately sweet and instantly vanishing.
Director Matthew Marchus has done a wonderful job of bringing to life the near cartoon-like nature of the movie. It is rare in the second paragraph of a review to call out those in tiny print such as video designer Andrzej Goulding, Finn Caldwell who created the car chase movement, and Paul Kieve who conceived the illusions. Yet it is those behind-the-scenes team members who best exploit the story’s limitations with imaginative results that are in direct conflict with the general “wowness” one expects to see on the Great White Way.
Karl pulls off the slights of hand and other body parts with wonderful energy. His song-styling brings out the most in the accompanying gleeful lyrics. Unfortunately, Barrett Doss as Connor’s love interest Rita Hanson does not reach his level of skill. Despite a number in which she recites the highlights of her story, the character remains thinly drawn. It is simply not believable that this woman could pull this man out of his destructive cycle. The rest of the cast is solid and there are some terrific running gags.
The lack of balance between the two main characters is one of several key points in Danny Rubin’s book that seem to rely on memories of the original (which Rubin co-wrote with Harold Ramis) to bring them to fruition. I’m not at all sure that someone who has no familiarity with the movie would completely follow the plot. The content is also problematic in that it is too risqué for general family viewing and it doesn’t have enough meat on its bones to be a full adult experience. Additionally, I had a personal problem with the scenes poking fun at alcoholism. Surely we live in a time when drinking and driving is not the stuff of lighthearted jesting.
The music and lyrics by Tim Minchin are spirited, although there are a few numbers that add to the running time more than the storyline. I was not alone in questioning the selection of “Seeing You” as the song chosen for the Tony broadcast. I can understand not wanting to give away the funnier moments including “Stuck” (featuring some hilarious healers). But there are other songs that reveal Phil’s slow evolution from his sarcastic womanizer beginnings that are more entertaining and well executed by the company.
Groundhog Day offers plenty of smiles and a striking lead in Andy Karl. It’s important to remember that the movie version was a modest success that earned about $70M in its initial run. It has been only through the eyes of film history that it became a classic and gave rise to the term “Groundhog Day” meaning the feeling of repeating the same experience. It should therefore not be a surprise that the show is a mild entertainment and perhaps not the best fit for $200 per ticket territory. It is scheduled to play at the August Wilson theater through January 7, 2018. (http://www.groundhogdaymusical.com/tickets/).