Benet Catty Productions

Groundhog Day (WE 2016)

Aug 26, 2016

Old Vic

At last!

The last couple of years have not been good to fans of big new shows. West End musical offerings have either been not-very-good (Made in Dagenham), or jukeboxes (Beautiful), or revivals (Funny Girl). All had merits; few gave value for money. The only good new musicals that have actually been \"new\" have both been at the National: Damon Albarn\'s which was wondrous but too weird to generate a commercial life, and Fat Boy Slim\'s Here Lies Love.

Groundhog Day, though, is a terrific new British musical that has heart, class, inteligence, spectacle, comedy, family appeal and commercial prospects. Praise God.

Groundhog Day is a nineties film that spawned a timeless refrain referring to deja vu. In the original, Bill Murray played the self-regarding weatherman Phil Connors who is sent to cover the eponymous event in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, but in so-doing finds himself reliving the same day over and over again - seemingly forever.

He bumps into the same people, hears the same conversations, gets hit on the head by the same person. Soon he twigs the benefits of this, and has fun with the time loop he\'s trapped in. He can effectively predict the future because he has already experienced it. He has sex he wouldn\'t otherwise have by making use of information he wouldn\'t otherwise know.

But a life of repetition proves to be less a circle of life and more of a death spiral. When the fun wears off he tries killing himself. Even that doesn\'t work. He seems doomed to spend the rest of eternity reliving February 2nd. His motive changes; he wants to live for now. And that\'s going to start with the girl he\'s been trying to date again and again.

So Groundhog Day is a romantic comedy with an existential motor; an unusual cocktail of qualities for any film, much less a musical.

The team behind it has an amazing pedigree.
Director Matthew Warchus - the best director of musicals in the world - reunites with singer-songwriter-comedian Tim Minchin, designer Rob Howell, lighting designer Hugh Vanstone, illusionist Paul Kieve, and others with whom he created the world-beating Matilda and the equally dazzling (though much less successful) Ghost. Each of the dream team has a moment where the dazzle is all their own but the triumph of the production is the seamless blending of their long-honed talents.

Andy Karl, as Phil, is sensational. He was a bold choice for the role as he is completely unknown in this country, although he has more of a reputation on Broadway. Funny, sexy, charming, obnoxious and not at all like Bill Murray, he rarely leaves the stage and you rarely look at anything else when he\'s there. A sequence in which he dances in self-satisfied ecstacy in his dressing gown is one of the great pleasures on the London stage this year.

The show is not yet perfect. While Matilda is full of great tunes, Tim Minchin is stingier with the tunes on Groundhog. With a couple of exceptions - a very funny hoe-down in act one, a song about being a supporting character in act two - the music is serviceable rather than memorable, even though the lyrics have his customary quirky dexterity. One song even features an enema, not something that often makes an appearance in a popular musical. \"With enemas like these who needs friends\" he sings, as water is flushed up him.

While the score may be a bit of a curate\'s egg, the visual flair from Matthew Warchus constitutes a mighty meal. There\'s a brilliant scene in which a car chase is shown from an aerial view; there\'s a hilarious sequence of illusions while Phil is trying to kill himself (in one case by electrocuting himself in the bath) but then magically reappears in his bed on the other side of the stage. The illusions surpass almost everything in the Harry Potter stage show. Warchus is a king of delivering last minute treats in his productions; here the show\'s final tableau is one of its most beautiful and simple.

The production was only running two months as a try-out before planned London and Broadway transfers, but there\'s no question about it: Groundhog Day will be coming back. And when it does I\'ll be going to see it again.

And, perhaps inevitably, again.

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