Review - Groundhog Day (Old Vic)

Groundhog Day is an exciting new musical based on the 1993 film of the same same. It stars Andy Karl as narcissistic weatherman Phil Connors, who begrudgingly travels to the tiny rural town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to report on a story about its most famous resident Punxsutawney Phil, a Groundhog who can allegedly predict the weather. However, Phil finds himself stuck in time loop and is forced to live out the same day again and again...and again, in a seemingly endless cycle. Groundhog Day is directed by the Old Vic's artistic director Matthew Warchus, with a book by Danny Rubin and music and lyrics by Tim Minchin. 
Photo credit - Manuel Harlan
This is Tim Minchin's first musical theatre offering since Matilda, one of the most successful musicals of recent years, and as such the anticipation for this show has been huge. Therefore, what is immediately obvious is how markedly different Groundhog Day is in terms of musical styling. The songs are fast paced and feature the witty, wordy lyrics that Minchin is famous for, but are less instantly memorable this time around. That being said, the show features a number of thrilling rock inspired tunes, as well as several sweet ballads. It'd be unwise to equate catchiness to quality, as that certainly isn't applicable in the case of Groundhog Day

The show almost solely focuses on Andy Karl, whose voice is perfectly suited to the score and whose magnetic stage presence and easy charm almost make Phil a likable protagonist. However, particularly in the first act, when his sole drive seems to be bullying and mistreating those around him and trying to seduce every girl he meets, Phil is a decidedly difficult character to warm to.

Interestingly, at the top of act two Groundhog Day temporarily refocuses on Nancy, an everywoman from Punxsutawney who catches Phil's eye and is temporarily the object of his affections. Georgina Hagen sings the touching opening song with power and gravitas, but it is hard to have an emotional response to a song sung by a character which the audience is almost entirely unfamiliar with. Perhaps this is the point though? Groundhog Day is Phil's personal purgatory, and yet his actions affect everyone around him (albeit just for one day), a fact which he gives very little thought to initially. 

After accepting that he is fated to repeat the same day forever, Phil naturally begins to reconsider his life and what he wants from it, and his attentions are turned to his news producer acquaintance Rita, played by Carlyss Peer. Rita is an interesting character who has her own relatable problems and motivations. Clearly a foil for Phil, she is plighted by her treatment at work and her longing to find a perfect partner and yet maintains an easy going, kindhearted persona nonetheless. Carlyss Peer is warm and affable in the role, and portrays Rita's depth remarkably well, considering the fact that she has only one day's worth of character development. 
Photo credit - Manuel Harlan
It could very easily be argued that Phil's character arc is driven by his need to finally get the girl by whatever means necessary, which is a slightly outdated motive. However, Phil's learnt selflessness and humility are really what drives the story in the end, and offers a much more rewarding resolution to his character flaws. The story is intriguing and surprising, and by the end it truly feels like a journey has been had by all. A hard feat to accomplish in a musical where the sole premise is that a day repeats over and over again. Many of Phil's Groundhog Days are presented in a series of montages, executed slickly with the help of several revolves. This format ensures that the audience gets a sense of Phil's exasperation and entrapment, but also safeguards against the possibility of the repetitiveness becoming sluggish. 

The revolves are frankly mind boggling, and in fact it seems that the whole show relies on them. Designer Rob Howell's sets are simplistic yet effective, and lighting design is wonderfully atmospheric. The small town aesthetic of Groundhog Day is perfectly encapsulated in of all of the props and sets, from a bar to a diner, to a bed and breakfast, and everywhere else in between. Despite the need for simplicity due to the fast paced set changes throughout the show, the attention to detail is still delightful. 

Groundhog Day is an exciting new musical which exceeds all expectations. It is a shame that as of yet there is no news of a cast album, as repeat listening would no doubt uncover dozens of witty lyrics which are easily missed in the relentlessness of the musical on stage. All in all though, the show is a dark yet delightful romp, which takes full advantage of its repetitiveness, and makes sure that every moment is engaging and unpredictable. Don't miss it at the Old Vic until September 17th.