A musical based on the cult film of the 1990s, Groundhog Day? Um… Yes please. Music and lyrics by Tim Minchin? Yes please. This production was a bit of a dream come true for theatregoers before it had even begun. Great story, great creative team – yes, yes, yes.
And the real thing does not disappoint. The first twenty minutes or so, depicting the initial Groundhog Day, is a tightly choreographed, vibrant feast for the eyes. The staging, designed by Rob Howell, is impeccable – made up of a series of revolving sections – characters disappear, reappear, colours pop. The music is elating, joyous – this is the kind of theatre that makes your heart beat just that little bit faster.
There are places where the pace lags and the repetition of scenes becomes slightly frustrating, but this mirrors the experience of our anti-hero Phil Connors – played expertly by Andy Karl who manages to capture Connors’ repulsive side, whilst making his transition to good guy both believable and heart-warming. There must have been a huge temptation to work from the blueprint already laid by Bill Murray in the film, but Karl resists the urge and plays the part completely originally. The resulting performance is electric.
Unfortunately, the female characters do not have such emotional depths to plumb. Rita (Carlyss Peer), who is lovely and intelligent and professional, loses much of her pizzazz (and feminist credentials) when she launches into a song about (sigh) waiting for her prince to come. Yes, this is a romantic comedy and this angle is pretty much standard for the genre, but this is a musical so forward-looking and refreshing in other areas that this song feels especially limp and disappointing.
Similarly, the character Nancy (a blonde girl who Connors repeatedly manipulates into bed, played by Georgina Hagen) is given a platform to expand on her character – a whole song to herself at the beginning of the second half. However, this is a wasted opportunity. The song merely propounds the idea that she is nothing but a bit part, an ‘oh poor me’ ballad about always being thought of as the blonde and pretty one. It doesn’t address the fact that she is nothing but a joke and a sex object in the first half nearly enough, and theatrically it jars, seeming out of place with the rest of the story. The women here are not powerful or interesting, certainly not in comparison to the men.
There are moments of pure theatrical genius: a medical scene where Connors attempts to figure out what is wrong with him, complemented by a witty song which cleverly sends up our contemporary obsession with healthy eating, particularly the adversity to gluten; and Phil Connors committing suicide on a loop, which is surprisingly funny and executed impressively on the stage, with Karl reappearing from his bed even before the previous attempt is carried out.
This is an enjoyable show to watch: an exceptional example of musical theatre with a sweet enough message about finding the untapped potential in the everyday. Despite the fact that the story could do with a bit of a 21st century update, it proves that new musical theatre is an exciting genre with much more to explore. And with a Broadway transfer recently announced, it seems it has a bright future. May it go on and on… and on and on and on and on (ad infinitum).