Review of 'Groundhog Day: A New Musical'

groundhogday.jpg http://www.oldvictheatre.com/whats-on/2016/groundhog-day/

A new musical with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin (of “Matilda” fame) based on the film of the same name (staring Bill Murray). In it we see Phil Connors, an arrogant Pittsburgh TV weatherman, visiting the town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania for the annual Groundhog Day celebrations (February 2nd) where the town gathers to witness whether or not the town groundhog sees his shadow. After doing his piece for television he learns that they are stranded in Punxsutawney due to a snowstorm he returns to his hotel. Waking he finds that it is Groundhog day…again. Phil quickly realizes that he is stuck in time, repeating the same day over and over. Initially he tries to take advantage of the situation then he tries (repeatedly and quite amusingly) to kill himself then finally he tires of this and works on bettering himself and the lives of those around him. It is a harsh story of self discovery and redemption.

A wonderful adaption of the much-loved (and hilarious) film. The music is very good with just the right amount of repetition for a musical, keeping the audience humming throughout (though it has to be said I have to really concentrate to remember any of the music or lyrics now). Andy Karl as Phil has a strong voice and really brought the incredible range of emotions Phil experiences to life. Karl's stamina in keeping up with the frequent and dramatic scene changes (how he ends up in the bed perfectly on time is a real puzzle) is also much to be admired. All of this is also true to many of the cast that have to have impeccable timing to be in the right place at the right time. It has to be said that the chorus also really bring a great deal of depth to the complex harmonies of the score - Often subtle in parts but always perfectly balanced.

This leads me to the staging - Wow. The stage has a central rotating element and several smaller rotating sections that really facilitate the fast moving story. The use of a toy television truck when the cast travels around is truly inspired and quite playful - I still smile when I think of the (cast member dressed as a) groundhog dumping snow on top of it in the middle of the stage. The portable nature of the various stage elements is absolutely essential with the speed at which things change but even so the scope of the bedroom element, for example, is amazing - A bedroom in four (or more) pieces that are brought together precisely on time, every time.

Probably the most amazing scene from a staging, music and choreography perspective is when Phil is driving the two town drunks around in a fit of self-destruction. Alternatively switching between a full-size sectional car and a set of toys racing around the stage (vertically and horizontally) is quite amazing to watch - perfectly timed. The music here really matches the action and it just never lets up.

Another wonderful moment takes place immediately after the interval where a minor character who Phil has a fling with sings a song to the audience about the size of her role (this reminded me of “Whatever Happened to My Part?” from Spamalot). Her voice was stunning and quite a dramatic event to stop the action for several minutes, standing in the middle of the stage to sing. You might think the whole nature of the story - That of a day repeated over and over again might be very repetitive but it is things like this that keep up your attention - Always something new and different happening.

However there were some disappointments for me in this first production at the Old Vic. The voice of Carlyss Peer as Phil's producer Rita Hanson is simply not suitable for the demands placed upon it. It is often painful to watch as she strained to reach the heights demanded by the score with her harsh voice better suited to the lower registers. Additionally, the second half of the musical really seemed to drag on for quite a long time which I think tried the patience of the audience. They really seemed to dwell on the futility of Phil's situation which meant that the musical really darkened as it went on with the end redemption a relatively short coda to the previous depression. To be honest, having reached the central conceit of the plot in the first 30 minutes, there was a lot of time left to fill and here they were not afraid to fill it to make sure the message is driven home - Bravery to be admired, it has to be said. Having said this, I can forgive any relatively minor issues because of the wonderful music, the staging and performances of (most of) the cast.

With a bit of tightening up I can see that this musical could play for many years. Minchin has done it again.

Rating:

Review Date: 2016-08-08



Old Vic

Location: London (England)

Address: The Cut, London SE1 8NB ENGLAND

Public Transport: TUBE Waterloo NRLOGO Waterloo

Telephone: +44 (0) 844 871 7628

URL: http://www.oldvictheatre.com/

The Old Vic is hidden away just to the south of Waterloo Station. An older style theatre with a tiny foyer which makes it quite crowded getting in and out of.

Lobby

The classical interior of the smaller theatre has quite good acoustics with the 2nd balcony (the “Baylis Circle”) quite small and still providing a great view of the stage.

Mark's Bar - Baylis Circle

Art in the staircase