On & Off Broadway

‘Groundhog Day’

Review by Elyse Trevers


Is there really such a thing as deja vu? What if you had to relive one day over and over again forever? That’s the plight of Phil Connors, a sarcastic urban weatherman who winds up in Punxsutawney, PA, on Groundhog Day to see if Phil the groundhog sees his shadow. For some unexplained reason, Phil gets stuck in the small town that he detests and relives the same day repeatedly.

Once he realizes that he can’t escape the hell he’s in, Phil lashes out in anger. Then he goes through excesses of drink, drugs, sex and crime as he realizes there will be no repercussion. Later, in despair, he tries to kill himself. Finally, he realizes this can be an opportunity to learn and change to become a good person. For some, the story is a lesson about redemption, and the 1993 movie starring Bill Murray has become a cult classic and is even part of the curriculum in some college courses.

Having won all sorts of awards in its London run, there was a huge amount of expectation and excitement leading up to the Broadway opening. And then, brace yourself, Andy Karl, the extremely telegenic and talented young star, tore his ACL during a performance. Several of his appearances were cancelled but Karl has returned to the show.

After my scheduled performance was canceled, I finally saw Karl as Phil, the jaded, unsympathetic Phil. And Karl was worth waiting for. He begins as a wise guy, mocking the small town in which he is stuck. Slowly and by degrees, Karl’s charm wins us over and we sympathize with him. I was fascinated by the brace that he wore for his injury and how it didn’t seem to hamper his movement or his performance. He climbs a ladder, joins the town parade, and moves about without any problem. Karl, impressive as the star of the short-lived Rocky musical, is a fine singer and performer.

As his love interest, Rita (Barrett Doss), does a good job, especially since Phil is always our focal point. She’s got a lovely singing voice and is a solid performer.

Director Matthew Warchus deftly moves his performers around so the audience gets the sense of repetition but not of boredom. The show is cleverly done, especially as the days repeat. Sometimes the action is in Phil’s B&B, sometimes the town cafe, and sometimes at the groundhog celebrations itself.

Tim Minchin's music is tuneful and some of the lyrics are extremely clever. However, a couple of songs, namely one sung by an attractive blonde entitled “Playing Nancy,” and another sung by Ned Ryerson, the annoying insurance salesman, don’t add much to the show. Rob Howell creates scenes and costumes that are especially appealing, reminding one of 3-D Christmas cards.

Fans of the movie will find much that they recall. Yet despite the sarcasm, Karl is a gentler and more likable character than Murray was in the movie.

Groundhog Day: The Musical has just transferred from London where it won the prestigious Olivier Award for Best Musical, and the American star, Andy Karl won Best Actor for his portrayal as Phil. Karl may find himself reliving the feeling of winning Best Actor in a Musical award, but this time at the Tonys.


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