By April Stamm
When the whole point is inane, frustrating, and annoying repetition, how could there possibly be hope for entertainment? Moviegoers asked themselves the same question in 1993, but the leap of faith was easier to take at around $5 a ticket for the film, for theatergoers today making the jump into a seat at the August Wilson Theatre to see Groundhog Day, the investment looks more like a C-note or two. With vivacious energy, a lot of cockeyed optimistic humor, and a surprisingly poignant moment or two, Groundhog Day pays out at least 70 percent on your big investment.
The premise is dangerously simple. Phil Connors (Andy Karl), a successful TV weatherman from the big city, is forced to do the yearly February 2 remote broadcast in Punxsutawney, PA, home to the famous all seeing groundhog Punxsutawney Phil. The pinnacle of small towns, Punxsutawney is Phil Connors’ worst nightmare; a town with one restaurant, one bar, one store, and full of friendly, exuberant and seemingly simple people who all know each other.
Phil is accompanied by his cameraman and a somewhat green producer, Rita Hanson (Barrett Doss), who actually like the town and its kitsch. A blizzard comes; the crew is stuck for one more night, when Phil Connors wakes up the next morning it’s Groundhog Day… again and again and again…
Happy diversions from the necessary monotony come by way of some clever and downright adorable set work by designers Rob Howell (scenic and costume) and Paul Kiev (illusions) and overseen by Matthew Warchus (direction). Their work with miniature set pieces alone, including a brilliantly hysterical and impressive tiny car chase through the streets of Punxsutawney, is original and perfectly fits the quirkily sweet, but slightly irreverent nature of the show.
The music in Groundhog Day is a mostly forgettable, nothing wows or sticks with you as you leave the theatre. However, lyrically and conceptually Tim Minchin’s score strikes some interesting chords. A choral ensemble of “healers” near the end of the first act is amusingly tongue and cheek and for some, squirm-worthy in is topicality.
One of the standout moments, at the opening of the second act, is Nancy’s (Rebecca Faulkenberry) solo. Heretofore, Nancy is the blond to be ogled at and flirted with, a blip in the plot, a diversion, which is exactly what this song looks at in a meta sort of way.
Rightly so, Andy Karl steals the show as Phil Connors. It takes big talent and a huge amount of charisma to carry this role, and Karl makes it happen vocally and physically, enthralling the audience even as we hate him a little, and all with a substantial looking knee brace (Karl injured himself during previews). Counter to Karl, Barrett Doss plays producer and eventual love interest Rita Hanson succinctly. Vocally, she doesn’t falter, however, she is overshadowed by almost everyone else on stage in the charisma department. This makes for little chemistry between the two leads and what is equally problematic, little chemistry between the character of Rita Hanson and the town of Punxsutawney.
So back to the question: to shell out a bill or two for Groundhog Day or not? It is not groundbreaking thematically and is musically tepid. However, the musical is warm, funny, and quirky. It will make you giggle, perhaps shed a brief tear, and has some moments of delightful theatrical spectacle. Is it worth
August Wilson Theatre
245 W 52nd Street, NYC
April Stamm is a theater, food, and lifestyle journalist. She is a regular contributor to The Broadway Blog and Edge Media Network and is a Chef Instructor at the International Culinary Center.