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"Groundhog Day", The Musical, Stars Andy Karl at the August Wilson Theatre
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"Groundhog Day", The Musical, Stars Andy Karl at the August Wilson Theatre

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et al.

Groundhog Day
The Musical
(Groundhog Day Website)

Book by Danny Rubin
Music and Lyrics by Tim Minchin
Directed by Matthew Warchus
Choreographed by Peter Darling/Ellen Kane

Starring: Andy Karl
Barrett Doss
And an ensemble of actors/singers/dancers

At the
August Wilson Theatre
245 West 52nd Street
New York, NY 10019

Scenic & Costume Design: Rob Howell
Music Supervision/Orchestrations/Dance Arrangements:
Christopher Nightingale
Music Director: David Holcenberg
Music Coordinator: Howard Joines
Vocal Arrangements: Tim Minchin/Christopher Nightingale
Lighting Design: Hugh Vanstone
Sound Design: Simon Baker
Illusions: Paul Kieve
Video Design: Andrzej Goulding
Additional Movement: Finn Caldwell
Hair/Wig/Make-Up Design: Campbell Young Associates
Advertising/Marketing/Digital: AKA
Casting: Jim Carnahan, CSA
Production Stage Manager: David Lober
Press Representative: Boneau/Bryan-Brown
General Management: Bespoke Theatricals
Production Management: Aurora Productions

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
May 10, 2017 Matinee

Andy Karl has already earned a heroic reputation for his role in the new musical, based on the 1993 movie, Groundhog Day, at the August Wilson Theatre. Mr. Karl sustained a knee injury in one of his onstage skits, recently, and he not only returned to finish the show, in which he was injured, but he’s been performing since opening night, after a very brief break, with a visible leg brace. That brace is clearly in view, because during much of the show, Mr. Karl, playing Phil Connors, the television weatherman, wakes up in boxer shorts on February 2, in Punxsutawney, PA, in a bed and breakfast, day after day, and meets up with his cameraman, Larry (Vishal Vaidya) and his on air producer, Rita Wilson (Barret Doss). Almost every time Mr. Karl’s leg brace was on view, his many audience fans wildly cheered.

Andy Karl seizes the stage with personality and charisma, drawing the audience into what could be repetitive tedium, that is, scene after scene of greeting the local townspeople and vendors, who reap annual income from this once/year weather stunt, watching Phil, the groundhog, be taken from his underground burrow so the local officials can see if the groundhog casts a shadow. The big question, will there or won’t there be six more weeks of winter. Not only is a percussive local band scene repeated, along with the shadow-forecast results, but local police arrive each time to warn of a snowstorm, closed roads, and the need to bunker down in place. So, Phil wakes numerous times to the same alarm clock, to be greeted by his host with the same breakfast and coffee, and so on.

Plot twists turn poignant, when Phil repeatedly bumps into a high school classmate, whom he shuns, before he finds out the old friend, Ned Ryerson (John Sanders), is mourning the loss of his wife, when Phil meets a down-on-his-luck chap on a park bench, and when Phil turns romantic with Rita, after a fling with the flashier local, Nancy (Rebecca Faulkenberry), that does not cheer him up. Ms. Doss, in a breakout lead role, has a natural stage presence and unpretentious demeanor. Her repeat solos, “February 2nd”/“There Will Be Sun”, were tonally strong and persuasive. The plot proceeds to find ways for Phil and Rita to bond, and one night in a restaurant and back in Phil’s room seems to do the trick, on an initial level. This is not a canned musical with “boy meets girl, boy and girl walk into rapid sunset”. It’s rather a dramatic comedy, with some charming scenes. When the whiplash of repetitive Groundhog Days is complete, and Rita and Phil can actually leave “Small Town, USA” (a song sung by Phil and company three times), they choose to stay the day to wander together in the snow.

A madcap scene, in the midst of the routine Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney ceremonies, includes Phil finding two drunks, Gus (Andrew Call) and Ralph (Raymond J. Lee) in a local bar, who take him on a careening ride in a truck, with police on their heels, as the trio sings “Nobody Cares”. This scene begins with miniature cars and roads, like a toy train set, and ends with an actual onstage, noisy truck. We had previously seen Phil’s van arrive at the Groundhog Day ceremonies in miniature fashion as well. Other comic scenes involve Phil’s attempts to shake his monotonous rut, including seeing doctors and trying to end it all, although he wakes from these nightmares with the same ring of the alarm. I did not see the movie, but its screenwriter, Danny Rubin, also wrote the book of this musical. Tim Minchin, who wrote music and lyrics, keeps the sequences breezy and entertaining, although the use of frequent profanities in dialogue and song seems to be stretching for laughs where they would already exist. This is not stand-up comedy, and crude expletives were extraneous and unpleasant. The crowd would come regardless, and I liked this show a lot more than I had anticipated.

Rob Howell’s large, simplified scenery and costumes suited the surreal visual repetitions, bringing Mr. Karl, who somehow kept waking in that same wintery bed, close to the audience. A great deal of stage momentum, with rotating structures, on which the ensemble enters, marches, sings, dances, and exits, were brilliant. There had been media buzz in advance about equipment malfunctions, but none occurred at today’s matinee. The ceremonial crowd’s colorful costumes were eye-catching and cartoonish. Peter Darling’s choreography mainly consists of bouncy group motion, but a second act quasi pas de deux for Mr. Karl and Ms. Doss, when she bids for charity to be his dance partner, was musically expressive, while they sing “Seeing You”. Paul Kieve’s illusions are always remarkably enchanting, and Simon Baker and Hugh Vanstone’s sound and lighting were both warm and crisp. Matthew Warchus, Director, keeps the repetitive scenes freshly charged, with Mr. Karl rising to the occasion, in his knee brace, within each well-deserved spotlight.

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at