By Sandi Durell
Groundhog Day was temporarily stuck (not in a time warp) but due to its lead Andy Karl’s leg injury pre-opening when understudy Andrew Call went on April 15 until Karl managed to hobble back on stage with a cane in hand and tears in his eyes, for the final scene. Other than some discomfort he may be feeling, Karl is knockin’ ‘em dead (left leg in a brace from a torn ACL and a limited performance schedule per doctor’s orders ) as the show continues at the August Wilson Theatre.
Based on the 1993 Harold Ramis film starring Bill Murray, which has become somewhat of a cult classic, cynical TV weatherman Phil Connors (Karl) is called upon to perform his yearly stint in the small town of Punxsutawney, Pa. with the aw-shucks chortling townspeople, for whom he feels nothing but distain, as they await the large furry one’s prediction on February 2 – shadow or no shadow – more winter?
The new musical version has music and lyrics by Tim Minchin (Matilda the Musical) and book by screenwriter Danny Rubin, with director Matthew Warchus knowingly creating rings of excitement, producing hi-energy movement as the cast whirls and twirls (literally on a Tilt-a-Whirl ride in Act II)! The wacky, clever boozy bar scene “Nobody Cares,” and “Philandering” – a brilliant assemblage of a pick up truck, followed by a midget car chase, are a feast for the eyes (lighting Hugh Vanstone) along with the fast paced choreography by Peter Darling and Ellen Kane.
With all that said, however, the repetition of Phil waking up each day, to repeat the same 24 hours until he learns lessons of humility and life, eventually falling in love with Rita (when all he had in mind was bedding her and the other young beauties of the town), wears thin and monotonous, added to by an overlong first act.
Minchin has written a wide variety of music, with his usual witty lyrics, covering everything from jazz to country and pop, albeit replete with a lot of rhyming that made it easy for me to guess exactly what was coming. There are enough humorous moments to keep the audience laughing but it’s obvious the production heavily relies on one person, Andy Karl, as its centerpiece.
Alongside Karl, and notable, are Rebecca Faulkenberry as Nancy (the one-night stand gal “Playing Nancy”) and John Sanders as Ned Ryerson the insurance salesman, Phil’s old school buddy, especially poignant in “Night Will Come” – an ode to life’s struggles.
Andy Karl has that ability to take an unlikeable character and emerge as the charming leading man he is; his vocal presence along with comic timing, amazing. Seeing him change from odious to mensch – as he studies the piano, saves the life of a homeless man, makes friends with and has a nice word for the various ‘hicks’ he so detested (“If I Had My Time Again”) – adds emotional impact and deeper thought to the storyline as we learn, change and are enlightened, tying it all together at the end with Doss in the sentimental “Seeing You.”
Photos: Joan Marcus
Groundhog Day – August Wilson Theatre, West 47 Street – run time 2 hours, 30 minutes (one intermission)