Vincent Ralph reviews a preview of Groundhog Day the musical.
Groundhog Day the musical has been a long time coming, with Stephen Sondheim initially linked with the project back in 2003.
Five years later he dismissed the idea, suggesting the movie on which it was to be based could not be improved, but thankfully Danny Rubin, Tim Minchin and Matthew Warchus thought differently.
The musical makes its world premiere at The Old Vic this summer and based on the preview I saw it is nothing short of sensational, with Rubin’s book, Minchin’s music and lyrics and Warchus’s direction coming together to form another masterpiece.
That was to be expected, with Rubin writing the original screenplay for the film and Minchin and Warchus responsible for the West End and Broadway behemoth that is Matilda the musical, and yet it was not a foregone conclusion.
The Bill Murray-starring film is one of the best loved of the nineties. It is also an ingeniously constructed time-loop comedy not exactly made for a live setting.
And yet those responsible for this show have pulled it off, with choreographer Peter Darling and designer Rob Howell – whose work is a joy to behold and a vital element in the show’s brilliance – deserving special praise.
Many of the initial audience members will no doubt be Minchin fans and his influence runs through the show’s core, but this is not Matilda Mk II. It is a sometimes sombre, sometimes nightmarish but ultimately heart-warming reflection on life in small town America…or anywhere for that matter. It is also damn funny, with laugh-out-loud moments coming thick and fast.
One of Matilda’s standout songs is When I Grow Up and now, five years on from that show’s introduction to the world, Groundhog Day is the perfect follow-up. It tackles adulthood in all its guises and the supporting cast are exemplary, with two standout numbers going to Andrew Langtree’s Ned Ryerson and Georgina Hagen’s Nancy respectively.
There is also a superb number, including beautiful drunk harmonies, that leads into one of the show’s bravest and best set-pieces.
But of course the story belongs to main character Phil Connors – the put upon weatherman forced to replay the same day over and over again – with lead Andy Karl delivering a masterclass.
Karl is on stage for most of the show’s run-time and he never lets up. He conveys every emotion perfectly, from befuddlement to anger to elation to despair to the ultimate realisation that seals his fate.
Karl is wonderful to watch, so much so that it is hard to imagine anyone else playing the stage version of Connors half as good.
Groundhog Day the musical is a masterpiece that should take the West End by storm before dazzling audiences on Broadway in 2017.