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A CurtainUp Review
Groundhog Day

— Phil
Andy Karl (Photo: Joan Marcus
TV weather man Phil Connors may not be thrilled with his assignment to cover the annual Groundhog Day celebration Punxsutawney, PA. But, as probably at least half the people who've come to the August Wilson to see Groundhog Day, the Musical, saw the 1993 movie with Bill Murray, Phil's life elsewhere hasn't stimulated him for quite a while, which probably exacerbates his being arrogant and crudely sexist — in short, a perfect anti-hero ripe for redemption in this hokey small-town setting.

The movie became a cult hit, with those still toddlers or not even born yet, joining the viewer fan base courtesy of DVD availability. And as Phil had to relive February 2nd again and again and again, so some of these fans watched the movie again every time that date rolled around. In 2006, since "Groundhog Day" became so identified with any situation that seems to repeat over and over in government and military arenas, as well as influencing other entertainment, the film was added to the United States National Film Registry as being deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

Now the the film's influence on other entertainment has surfaced in a musical version. And a large segment of the audience at the August Wilson are there to see the musical's Phil Connors, Andy Karl. That covers those old enough to have seen Karl's first off-Broadway hit Altar Boyz, and his more recent Broadway star turns, like Rocky .

Given that the musical's book is written movie's script writer Danny Rubin, the show is essentially true to its film source. But can the movie's decidedly filmic sensibility survive now that Phil and the citizens of Punxsutawney are singing and dancing? And can Andy Karl capture the jaded, smarmy weatherman's redemptive journey without all those again and again scenes being, well, too repetitious?

It's a yes and no on whether this marriage of the iconic film and the musical theater genre works. film's very special sensibility. Rubin's book works pretty well and song writer Tim Minchin has created an ear pleasing range of novelty pop, country, rock and jazz flavored tunes. But while director Matthew Warchus and his designers have certainly created a an abundance of eye-popping theatrical wizardry, this is a problematic marriage. Their crayon-colored small town world comes off as garish, and its citizens are more cartoonish than subtly eccentric.

Fortunately, Andy Karl saves the day. Instead of trying to step into Bill Murray's shoes, he is a different and every bit as memorable a Phil as Murray was. And of course, he has the voice and moves needed to make his Phil the perfect singing and dancing weatherman. Best of all, he makes each of those again and again scenes that could so easily be tedious, amusingly fresh. By the time his Phil gets his comeuppance courtesy of Phil the groundhog and we see his Ebenezer Scrooge-like turnaround, he won me over enough to almost forgive the extreme busyness and clownish elements.

Of course, Karl deserves, and gets, an extra hand for his amazing show-must-go-on spirit. After this very physical role caused him to tear a ligament in his knee during the first act. He not only finished the performance at which this happened, using a cane, but has since returned wearing a very visible leg brace (and actually incorporating it into his performance.

To be fair to the show overall, though Rob Howell's scenery and Andezej Goulding's video designs too aggessively star rather than support the performers, tey are mind-bogglingly clever: an effectively used rotating floor. . .miniature houses and vehicles, the latter including a full sized ones for a show-stopping car chase. There are also excellent performances from the large ensemble. That includes Karl's similarly named understudy Andrew Call as one of the characters in that car chase, who's taking over matinees to give Carl a chance to rest that injured knee (I hear he's very good). Barrett Doss brings strong acting and vocals to the role of Rita Hanson, as Phil's local program manager and inevitable love interest.

There are a lot of seats to fill in the big, beautiful August Wilson Theatre, but with its appeal to an audience from 18 to 80, it's likely to be a full house again and again, and again for quite a while.

Musical Numbers
Act One
  • There Will Be Sun / Company
  • Small Town, USA /Phil Connors and Company
  • Punxsutawney/ Phil Company
  • February 2nd-There Will Be Sun/ Rita Hanson and Company
  • Small Town, USA /Phil Connors and Company
  • Punxsutawney /Phil Company
  • February 2nd-There Will Be Sun / Rita Hanson and Company
  • Small Town, USA /Company
  • Stuck /Phil Connors and Healers
  • Nobody Cares /Gus, Ralph, Phil Connors and Company
  • Philandering /Company
  • One Day / Rita Hanson, Phil Connors and Company
Act Two
  • Playing Nancy / Nancy
  • Hope / Phil Connors and Company
  • Everything About You / Phil Connors
  • If I Had My Time Again /Rita Hanson, Phil Connors and Company
  • Everything About You (Reprise) / Phil Connors
  • Philosopher /Phil Connors and Company
  • Night Will Come /Ned Ryerson
  • Philanthropy /Phil Connors and Company
  • Punxsutawney Rock /Piano Teacher and Company
  • Seeing You /Phil Connors, Rita Hanson and Company
  • Dawn /Company

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Groundhog Day
Music and Lyrics by Tim Minchin
Book by Danny Rubin
Directed by Matthew Warchus
Cast: Starring Andy Karl as Phl Connors and Barrett Dos as Rita Hanson; also Rebecca Faulkenberry, John Sanders, Andrew Call, Raymond J. Lee, Heather Ayers, Kevin Bernard, Gerard Canonico, Rheaume Crenshaw, Michael Fatica, Katy Geraghty, Camden Gonzales, Jordan Grubb, Taylor Iman Jones,Tari Kelly, Josh Lamon, Joseph Medeiros, Sean Montgomery,William Parry, Jenna Rubaii, Vishal Vaidya,Travis Waldschmidt, and Natalie Wisdom.
Music Director: David Hollenberg Music Supervisor: Christopher Nightingale
Vocal Arrangements: Tim Minchin & Christopher Nightingale
Music Coordinator: Howard Jones
Choreographer: Peter Darling
Co-Choreographer: Ellen Kane
Set and Costume Design: Rob Howell
Lighting Design: Hugh Vanstone
Sound Design: Simon Baker
Illusions: Paul Kieve
Video Design: Andrzsj Goulding
Stage Manager: David Lober
Running time: Two hours 30 minutes with 1 intermission
August Wilson Theatre 245 West 52^nd Street
From 3/17/17; opening 4/17/17; closing 9/17/17
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 4/26th press performance

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