Groundhog Day, review of Tim Minchin's new musical at the Old Vic Theatre

  • Our critic's rating:
    Wednesday, August 17, 2016
    Review by:
    Mark Shenton

    The first lesson of Groundhog Day is that lightning CAN strike twice -- and not just if your life is on a seemingly endless loop in which you repeat the same day again and again.... and again, as the lead character in the show does, getting hit on the head by the same man dressed as a giant squirrel, or running into the same former class mate, now an insurance salesman, day after day.

    The even more unusual repeat action here is that largely the same principal creative team behind Matilda the Musical have managed to create another huge hit -- and while the earlier show concerned the growing pains of a pre-teen girl who was more adult than her years, the new one concerns an adult brat of a television weatherman called Phil Connors who also has some growing up to do, behaving more infantile than he ought to until he is stopped in his tracks, literally, by his life being put into a repeat cycle holding pattern.

    It's a glorious dramatic idea, of course, first explored in the 1993 film of the same name that starred Bill Murray as the hapless weatherman. Such was its success that the title has entered the language as a phrase to summons that deja feeling we all have from time to time when we feel stuck repeating the same actions.

    But composer Tim Minchin, working with the original screenplay writer Danny Rubin, and director Matthew Warchus deepen and darken it with vivid new textures, provided in the gloriously tuneful score Minchin has written and the thrilling staging that inevitably repeats certain scenes a lot but never has you tire of them.

    We are made to experience the world as Phil Connors does; and Andy Karl pulls off the impressive feat of giving its inevitability a high-stakes tension. He's understandably bewildered by what's happening to him; then he throws caution to the wind and starts to enjoy the playfulness that he can have in knowing what's coming up; and finally, through eventual acceptance, to a beautiful understanding of himself.

    "Do you ever have déjà vu?”, Phil asks his B&B landlady. "I’m not sure, I’ll check in the kitchen," she replies. But what they'v cooked up in the developmental kitchen of the Old Vic is a full-blooded new musical that completely earns its place on its stage. As with Matilda -- which was developed with the RSC -- Warchus and his regular collaborators, including choreographer Peter Darling, wonder illusionist Paul Kieve, designer Rob Howell, lighting designer Hugh Vanstone, and musical supervisor Chris Nightingale have applied rigour and vigour to their storytelling throughout, so that it moves with stunning assurance.

    But it is the wild eclecticism of Minchin's score that is the take-home treat. It's one I'll want to re-live again and again. Ditto the lead performance of Andy Karl, a Broadway actor imported to play Phil, who is spellbinding. So is the entire show.

    What the Press Said...

    "Does it provide the same quantity of standout, sing-at-home numbers that we saw in Matilda? Hard to say at first sitting – but what is clear is that Groundhog Day is as funny and as touching as you could wish, and it lands with the confidence of an instant classic."
    Dominic Cavendish for The Telegraph

    "While the show is high-grade fun, I enjoyed it more for its dazzling theatrical expertise than for its much thinner emotional content."
    Michael Billington for The Guardian

    "Eloquent about despair but also relentlessly amusing, Groundhog Day is a treat."
    Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard

    External links to full reviews from popular press
    The Telegraph The Guardian

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