Stage revivals of Hollywood classics are nothing new, but rarely are adored films rebirthed with such wit, flair, joy and pathos that they give their source material a run for their money. That, triumphantly, is what Groundhog Day: the Musical has achieved at the Old Vic.
Danny Rubin’s hugely successful 1993 movie is about cantankerous weatherman Phil Connors, who is sent to one-horse town Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to report on their annual Groundhog Day celebrations. There, amid a raging blizzard, he is somehow stranded, caught in a time-warp, forced to relive the same day again and again, and discovers the painful reality of living life without consequences.
Andy Karl and Carlyss Peer in Groundhog Day at The Old Vic (photos by Manuel Harlan)
Rubin has joined forces with the team behind smash-hit musical Matilda: lyricist and composer Tim Minchin, and director Matthew Warchus, to create breathtaking production that is so dazzling in its musicality and inspired in its staging – Rob Howell’s set design is a marvel to look at, with delightful tricks and details – that it feels like an instant classic.
Minchin’s lyrics twinkle with innuendoes and asides that are sharply observed and raucously funny, and the score manages to mix bluegrass, pop, rock, soul, and jazz, to delightful effect. Particular highlights include the Appalachian-inspired woes of a pair of despondent bar-dwellers, and an uproarious number in which a coterie of quacks and new-age healers attempt to diagnose and cure Connors’s psychological predicament.
Broadway star Andy Karl is sensational as Phil Connors, juggling his swagger, cynicism and disdain with finesse. So much so that he threatens to eclipse Bill Murray’s much-loved turn in the role on-screen. His performance is writ with emotion as he plummets into an existential crisis, and his final redemption is all the more gratifying for it. Carlyss Peer is excellent as his vulnerable producer and love interest Rita, and there’s support from a winning gaggle of colourful townspeople, who come together in electrifying group pieces choreographed by Peter Darling.
The film’s metaphysical subject matter translates perfectly to the stage, in a production that sidesteps repetition and reworks each identical day with near-genius creativity. Groundhog Day’s run is limited – until September 17, before it’s bound for Broadway – but it’s unmissable.