I saw Groundhog Day, the new musical from lyricist/composer Tim Minchin and book writer Danny Rubin, recently. I’ve never seen the film and I’d assumed it was a comedy, but the production – directed by Old Vic Artistic Director Matthew Warchus – was a lot darker (at least in the second half) and had much more depth than I’d expected.
I started off thinking that I wasn’t going to like the show. During the first fifteen minutes or so I thought it was going to be a kind of soppy sentimental romcom. By the interval it had grown on me and I thought, “Hey, this isn’t so bad”. Act II blew me away. The songs were better, the plot was tighter and there just seemed to be more depth to it. Even though we see the same day repeated numerous times the show never gets boring, which impressed me.
When we initially meet Phil he is a rude, selfish, sarcastic asshole, but we see him grow and develop throughout the show, going from gleefully don’t-carish to despairingly suicidal before finding peace and gaining a greater understanding of himself and others. The whole show hinges on Phil’s character development and a lead actor could make or break it. Luckily Andy Karl is brilliant, very funny and able to convey his character’s feelings extremely well.
As the whole show takes place over the course of one day, there isn’t really room for any “character development” other than Phil’s because we’re only seeing one day in their lives, as opposed to many, many days in Phil’s life. Interest in the other characters comes mainly from Phil’s perception of them and how it changes over time. An exception to this is the song “Being Nancy” which I loved – both the song itself and what it says about characters and how they are portrayed on stage (particularly female characters).
This song also serves to emphasise how the “Groundhog Day” phenomenon isn’t just something that actually happens to Phil, it’s a metaphor for how many people live, repeating the same thing day in day out, consciously or unconsciously. I found the ending very satisfying: Phil has really grown as a person and I ultimately found the show uplifting and full of hope, a reminder that it’s important to care about others and life is more satisfying when you can form meaningful relationships with other people.
I would like to see this show again, if possible, and I would like a cast recording, too – I didn’t exactly come out humming any of the songs (something I rarely do anyway after just one listen/viewing) but there were several which I think could really grow on me. My favourite new musical of the year so far, and a contender for one of my favourite shows of 2016.