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‘Groundhog Day’ – Diversity gives familiar story a decent edge

‘Groundhog Day’ –  Diversity gives familiar story a decent edge

Big show is well directed and engaging – but loses force in slightly tepid second act…

HOW FAMILIAR you are with this story depends on whether you have seen the film.

This stage musical version is a lot of fun, has energy, comedy and several sweet moments.

The first half is about as absorbing as it might get for someone who is a little diffident about musicals on the whole.

With the book (story) by Danny Rubin, the original writer of the 1993 film, there are likely to be many similarities.

Cast of Groundhog Day

This musical has the genius of Tim Minchin behind it – famed for his ‘Matilda – The Musical’ (stage), there are some similarities with the recent film – we will come to those. Minchin and Old Vic Director Matthew Warchus collaborated on the ‘Roald Dahl Matilda The Musical’ film last year and the energy appears somewhat similar.

The basic story goes something like this, US TV weatherman Phil Connors (Andy Karl) finds himself living the same day over and over again and it takes him a while to twig. He’s there to report on what the groundhog’s prediction of when the winter will end – a long running tradition that attracts worldwide media attention.

Initially, he is like everyone else and utterly clueless – until somewhere in the middle of the first act of this show, he understands his predicament.

It is a bit like being in a dream and realising or accepting it is a dream and you have agency – while everyone is else is just going through the motions or playing a role.

At the centre of the story is the relationship between Connors and his TV producer Rita Hanson (Tanisha Spring).

In the film, you may remember Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell in these roles.

Rita Hanson (Tanisha Spring) and
Phil Connors (Andy Karl)

What makes this production refreshing is the diversity in casting – Hanson is black and we would venture to say almost 50 per cent of the cast is from a person of colour background.

We think this really works – even though the location – Punxsutawney in Pennsylvania is unlikely to reflect this sort of diversity in reality but who cares – that is what creative licence can be about.

Hanson is stand-out in her role and Karl matches her most of the way, we feel.

If this relationship did not work – the whole production is in danger of collapsing – because everyone else is playing a small part.

Connors, the weatherman is vain and full of self regard – and is your typical media brat from the big smoke – Hanson is new to the media, earnest and bright, she is simply trying to do her job as best she can – and does.

When Connors realises there’s no happiness to be found in his behaviour and one day is as the next – he starts to change – a lot.

The first half moves briskly and the music keeps everything – the plot, the characters and even the dynamic set – moving nicely. You feel entertained and intrigued by the idea that only the most unattractive of characters realises what is going on and has the ability to change.

It is clear Connors finds Hanson attractive and over time, his smarmy, leery approach is replaced by romance and genuine care – who would not find that appealing given the limited circumstances the pair find themselves in – in smalltown America.

Phil (Karl) and Rita (Spring)

The second half is a little flat or perhaps just a bit flatter – the music and dancing and the cast performances are of a good standard but it seems to be going through the motions a tad – almost as though the musical’s real verve comes from Connor’s original odiousness.

If you are a fan of Minchin, this is another must see (and hear) but to be really frank we’d like to see Minchin write his own big stage shows and put music to it. He’s an incredible force and his work derived from other’s is powerful – but you know what, he needs to create (more) original big stage work that others will be doing in ten or twenty years – and they will be because he is one of best around at the moment.

Acv rating: **** (out of five)

All pictures: The Old Vic ©ManuelHarlan

Sailesh Ram

‘Groundhog Day’, Book by Danny Rubin, Music & Lyrics by Tim Minchin, (May 20) – August 19: The Old Vic Theatre, The Cut, London SE1 8NB

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture