- OnStage New York Critic
Bottom line: The musical based on the cult 1993 movie, “Groundhog Day”, is a star vehicle for Andy Karl and a graveyard for female representation.
Repetition is a fruitful means of expression in the theater; hence the media itself is based on repetition. That said, it seems like the Groundhog Day, a beloved 1993 movie, was made for the stage. With the book by Danny Rubin, the writer of the original screenplay, the musical Groundhog Day opened in London in 2016 and made it's way to Broadway this spring. The creative team includes the director Matthew Warchus and composer/lyricist Tim Minchin of Matilda, the musical.
Andy Karl stars as Phil Connors, a weatherman with a rock-star attitude, who gets stuck in a small Pennsylvanian town while covering the annual appearance of the groundhog, Phil. The unexplained time paradox traps Connors in the same day, February 2nd, which he is doomed to relive over and over again. But you probably know the plot, much of which consists of Phil courting the TV producer, Rita Hanson (Barrett Doss).
If you are craving a rom-com with an arrogant yet charming prince and a feisty princess, read no further and go book your tickets. On top of the love story you will be rewarded with fiery dances by the ensemble dressed in winter attire (by costume designer Rob Howell), featuring caricature residents and visitors of Punxsutawney. Much like Phil, you will learn to love them as the show progresses and with each new loop we find out more about their lives.
The inventive design creates an atmosphere of a small town becoming the capital of the world for one day. Five turning tables are built into each other, resembling a clock mechanism. Mobile set pieces designed by Rob Howell, provide for dynamic staging. One of the most memorable numbers, the rock ballade “Hope”, uses illusions by Paul Kieve to create a deathly carousel of despair in which we see Phil killing himself again and again only to re-emerge in his personal purgatory.
The gloomy catalogue of suicides reveals that Connors is not the only one stuck in a repetitive life. So does the number, “Nobody Cares”, where two hillbillies get drunk with a TV celebrity in the bar and then dive recklessly around town. We get to see the panels of a car assembled and disassembled around the three as they jump up and down every railroad tie, running away from two miniature police cars.
The song opening the second act, “Playing Nancy” is a solo of Phil’s one-night stand, Nancy (Rebecca Faulkenberry), crying about choosing the wrong men all the time. The fake depth to the secondary character is unnecessary and puzzling. Perhaps Nancy was written as a contrast female character to Rita, who also says that she is waiting for a prince (on multiple occasions!) but in comparison to Nancy, is picky and knows what she wants.
Maybe this is an attempt to create a meta-song referring to life as stage where we all play our parts? "Playing Nancy" seems odd and out of place but at the same time it wonderfully embodies the major issue of Groundhog Day – the outdated and even harmful representation of women.
If not for the perky Barrett Doss, Rita would be the same “Nancy”, doomed to repeat the patterns of her female predecessors of mass culture, waiting for the perfect prince and suffer through relationships with imperfect men. And all of that is done without any sign of self-irony, without striving for anything other than "#relationshipgoals". Knowing that this musical was written in recent years, even if based on the 90s movie, makes me shiver.
Happy and reassuring, Groundhog Day buries the rotten core of the outdated message to women to define their life in relation to men. Yes, I understand that the show is not about Rita or Nancy, and we all are here to see charismatic Phil Connors making each of the same Groundhog Days unlike the previous. Andy Karl, with elegance and a hint of irony, shines with on a new plane of his brilliance in every single scenario of his day. But why is his counterpart, Rita, written so flat? It is about time we stop blindly repeating some narrative paths in musical theater when it comes to women, don’t you think?
“Groundhog Day” currently enjoys its open run in the August Wilson Theatre at 245 West 52nd street. More information and tickets: www.groundhogdaymusical.com