Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Review Groundhog Day The Musical

Groundhog Day The Musical
Music & Lyrics by Tim Minchin
Book by Danny Rubin

Ready For My Retake, Punxsutawney Phil!

A new musical by an already successful songwriter reuniting with the director of his most celebrated work, along with a book by a screenwriter of an acknowledged comedy classic was always going to be an event.

An event which is at least as big as the  folksy Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.

The ingeniously simple but ever giving premise of the 1993 movie Groundhog Day, the ill-tempered TV weather forecaster Phil Connors (Andy Karl) doomed to repeat for ever one day while those around him are unaware of the time loop, is never going to fail.

And for 21st century audiences which have lived through the development of computer games, the repetition and psychological modifications have a modern, familiar feel.

The repeated day is Groundhog Day in a rural borough of Pennsylvania where Puxsutawney Phil is brought out each February 2nd to predict how long winter will last. Perhaps the nearest we have in Europe is British-born Paul the Octopus.

But that's being silly ;). Back to the serious stuff. Matthew Warchus takes the helm as director with an ingenious toy town set design by Rob Howell and energetic choreography by Peter Darling. And of course the music and lyrics by Tim Minchin.

There's a smart-aleck sketch like feel to the show giving this musical more of an updated One Man, Two Guvnors vibe. Complete with snow, it's a kind of seasonal show for every season, Phil in TV Land mixed with Dickens' Scrooge mixed with Moliere's Le Misanthrope (hey, read that last again, once you've learnt to speak French to ingratiate yourself with us just like Phil Connors with producer Rita!).

It has to be said a few dirtier jokes also make it much more 18 than a PG certificate.

Karl as human Phil is far more of a handsome City slicker than the movie version as the town metaphorically and literally revolves around him. The film plot is all there but this Phil Connors is less of a crumpled cynic who has never moved out of local news than a high flying graduate who feels he has come down in the world.

The love interest, TV producer Rita (Carlyss Peer) and cameraman Larry (Eugene McCoy) like the townsfolk dress casually compared with the suited Connors who looks like a Wall Street executive parachuted into a Peanuts-style comic strip or other more kiddie like literature.

The score and plot whip through the story at breakneck speed. At the moment it does feel as if some of the timing for the repetition needs to bed in to extract the maximum comedy and pathos from the  psychodelic time warp (Mary Poppins or a Roald Dahl adaptation, it ain't!) as the marching band and groundhog festivities come round faster and faster.

Song-wise the score  is stronger in the second act than the first but there are quaint rhymes, puns and gags to hold the attention and sell the show.  Georgina Hagen as Nancy, a one-night stand during Phil's don't-care period on the time loop, also brings distinctive vocals to her song Playing Nancy in the second act.

This reflects too the filmic conceit at the heart of the movie and the musical. We're in a fast changing world of  movie  frames continually shot and re-shot. All in all, it's colourful and contemporary, so it's a crowd pleasing amber/green light.

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