Tim Minchin’s Groundhog Day musical at the Old Vic Theatre is a wonderfully witty, eccentric take on the fable of living in the moment
Back off Broadway, we might just have the best new musical since Hamilton – right here in London.
A new day has dawned for hit 1993 film Groundhog Day. It brings a songbook bursting with instant classics and even a touch of tap dancing.
On stage this story of a man’s time loop has the rare combination of humour, heart and eccentricity that made Matilda the Musical so beloved — which isn’t surprising. This new musical reunites the same creative team.
Director Matthew Warchus commands a pacey production, making an inherently repetitive plot freshly funny over and over again.
Comedian Tim Minchin is veering close to Icon status with lyrics that encompass filthy humour, surrealism and tender self-discovery. The score is like a soundtrack to small town Americana, borrowing from blues, country, soul and proper power ballads.
Plus, fans of the film need not fear audacious adaptation: scriptwriter Danny Rubin (who won a BAFTA for the Groundhog Day screenplay) has reworked the story for the stage.
It’s a well-known tale. Even if you enter the theatre ignorant, Phil Connors’s plight will soon feel familiar. The arrogant TV weatherman can’t wait to be done covering Punxsutawney’s annual Groundhog Day revelry. Then he wakes up to the exact same day, again and again and again.
Any concern that lead actor Andy Karl won’t live up to the precedent set by Bill Murray on film is quashed immediately. Karl has the kind of infectious comic delivery that dissolves entire auditoriums with just the slightest inflection or gesture.
He is likeable as the asshole who uses this endless, inconsequential time to drink drives and sleep with ‘90%’ of the town’s female population. And he’s still relatable as the peppy do-gooder.
We lurch from silly to surreal to complete desperation before the philosophical impacts of the time-warp premise take hold. The quirky staging captures some of that 90s naivety, with the occasional illusion reminding of the plot’s dependence on something magical.
All the ingredients for feel good blockbuster are present and of the highest quality, but what really sets this apart from its West End musical ancestors and the eponymous film is the witty moments subversion and self-awareness.
The female secondary characters, so forgettable in the film, are given a voice to make witty comments on their own limited role; one riotous song pokes fun at a hollow cash-cow of a health system doling out reiki, gluten-free diets and bovine tranqulizers; and the whole capacity for cheesy moralising is kept in check with the slight tilt of satire.