Friday, 09 September 2016

Groundhog Day

Tim Minchin repeats his earlier stage success by giving music and lyrics to the classic time-loop film

Written by Ian Shuttleworth
ianSometimes, however impartial you try to be, you just don’t get on with someone – something niggles away at you like a bad hangnail. I’m like that with Tim Minchin as a musical comedian. He just doesn’t light my fire. As a composer for theatre, though, you can see the red glow on the horizon from miles away. In the theatre-going world it feels as if everyone knows and loves his work on Matilda, and now he’s proved that wasn’t a flash in the pan. Groundhog Day may be coming to the end of its initial run at the old Vic, but you can rest assured that it will be finding a berth in the West End – and then on Broadway – as soon as possible.

It's not just Minchin that makes it such a success, though. This, after all, is a reunion for the entire Matilda team: Minchin, director Matthew Warchus, designer Rob Howell and choreographer Peter Darling. And in Danny Rubin the show has a scriptwriter who knows exactly how to adapt the screenplay for Harold Ramis’s 1993 movie classic which, er, Rubin wrote himself. Rubin knows that one stage can’t show the entire small burg where misanthropic TV weatherman Phil Connors finds himself in an endless time-loop; so bye-bye ice sculpture, and, instead, Rubin concentrates on a few repeated motifs, which Minchin’s score recapitulates with increasing variations. But if the whole of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, can’t be shown externally, more light can be shed on some of its inhabitants. This is achieved by Rubin and his comrades by, for instance, opening act two with a poignant musical number from a here-and- gone character you hardly remember from the movie, as Phil’s first bedmate, Nancy, laments about being seen merely as a sexual object.

As for the central couple – Phil and his producer Rita, whose love provides the key to Phil finally seeing 3 February – it’s the bigger challenge that’s more easily met here. Carlyss peer is spikier and less immediately fascinating than Andie Macdowell, but Andy Karl doesn’t so much banish the memory of Bill Murray’s poker- faced cynicism as broaden it all the way from suicidal despair to dedicated altruism. Particular delicious moments include his first sung lyric ‘Ugly bed/Ugly curtains/Pointless erection’ and the blackest number of all, when we see him apparently teleport across the stage from topping himself to wake up in the same bed yet again.

Often, when a classic movie is made into a stage musical, you feel like you’ve seen it all before. Once in a while, you end up wanting to see it again and again. Groundhog Day is one of the latter.

Until 17 September at The Old Vic, London SE1: 0844-871 7628, www.oldvictheatre.com


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