Groundhog Day at the Old Vic
The much-loved 1993 Bill Murray vehicle Groundhog Day – a modern day fable of Phil Connors, a cynical TV weatherman doomed to relive a day spent on assignment in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania – is not the most obvious source for a West End musical. However, thanks to a skilful collaboration between Danny Rubin (co-writer of the screenplay), musical polymath Tim Minchin (following up on debut hit Matilda), and Matthew Warchus (directing as he did on Matilda), it’s a jubilant sensation all the same.
Translation to musical theatre, of course, required a shift in tone. Thanks to Rob Howell’s luxuriant set and costume design, the vision of Punxsutawney conjured on the Old Vic’s famous stage is a more colourfully cartoonish and less gritty one than in its cinematic counterpart. In such a setting, opening musical numbers – underlining the hellish tweeness that accompanies Connors’s slow-dawning realisation that he’s stuck in an unending loop of small-town festivity – work incredibly well. Andy Karl’s portrayal of the cursed meteorologist is louder, sexier, and more agile than that seen in Murray’s sardonic masterclass of a performance, and a subtly refocused script matches it perfectly.
The real genius of the show lies in Minchin’s music and hilarious lyrics that straddle a range of genres, from spiky and angular guitar rock to heart-aching ballads with a wide span of emotion in between. Particularly well-handled is the bleak desperation that takes hold as the second half begins with our hero locked in a grim loop of repeated attempts at self-destruction. Though faithful to the source, the scathing scepticism of Minchin’s firebrand musical stand-up is also evident here (particularly in a number that expands on what is only a fleeting scene in the film to satirise quack medicine, fad therapy, and faith healing). Such darkness makes the celebratory redemption of the work’s climax all the more joyous.
With a composer so on top of his game as to be staking a claim for legendary status, and a fantastically talented ensemble bringing his work to life on an eye-wateringly beautiful stage, Groundhog Day is a breath of fresh air – exceptionally exciting must-see musical theatre.
Groundhog Day is at the Old Vic from 15th July until 17th September 2016. Book your tickets here.
Watch Tim Minchin perform Seeing You from Groundhog Day here: