Saturday 3 February 2024

Groundhog Day review

It's been 30 years since the movie Groundhog Day was released, where a cynical weatherman wakes up to find that he's stuck in a time loop, repeating the same day over and over and over again. The audience gets to watch his journey of personal growth before finally breaking this repetitive soul destroying cycle.

Fast forward to 2016, and the film becomes a London musical stage production with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin and a book by Danny Rubin to rave reviews and audience responses. Fast-forward to 2024, and it is finally Melbourne's opportunity to see this award wining play, and the wait has definitely been worth it.

Andy Karl, who originated the role of weatherman Phil Connors in the London and New York productions, once more dons the coat, scarf and snarky disposition for the Australian production, and oh, how lucky we are. Karl has the challenging task of getting the audience to be on the side of this antagonistic and patronising individual, and he does so flawlessly. Karl displays Phil's negative personality traits while showing his insecurities and vulnerabilities at pivotal scenes and presenting a character that could easily have been a one-note stereotype as a complicated and conflicted individual. This is clearly a character that Karl loves to play and this comes through in his extremely winning performance.

A talented ensemble surround Karl, including Elise McCann as Rita, the associate producer who is given the difficult task of managing Phil. The two share brilliant chemistry and while we know where they'll inevitably end up, watching them go through the journey together is still a lot of fun. The two do not disappoint with the show’s big musical number in the philosophical duet "If I Had My Time Again".

It's not easy to play drunk convincingly but Conor Neylon and Connor Sweeney as town drunks Gus and Ralph hit the right notes with excellent line delivery and performances that feel authentically inebriated. Ashleigh Rubenach has a near show-stealing moment with her song "Playing Nancy", where she questions whether she is destined to lead a life purely for the pleasure of men. It is a wonderful song lyrically and musically, but it feels out of place with no real further exploration around this idea and it is moved on from as soon as it is over. Tim Wright is also a delight as the lively life insurance salesman Ned Ryerson who harbours his own darkness, marvellously highlighted by the song "Night Will Come".

Minchin's lyrics are the reason why Groundhog Day works so well. When most of the audience know the film, or have seen variations of it, and when scenes are repeated three or four times, Minchin manages to keep the excitement and freshness going trough humorous and surprisingly affecting lyrics. While Phil is our main character, Rubin's book allows for the audience to meet a myriad of Punxsutawney locals and hear their stories, but perhaps Minchin and Rubin needed to take Rita's advice and slice off ten minutes from the second act.

Matthew Warchus's direction is full of gusto and movement and some truly inspired moments, including a police car chase involving Phil, Gus and Ralph, and magical happenings on stage that will leave you scratching your head as to how it was achieved. The set and costume designs by Rob Howell are visually captivating and bring the town of Punxsutawney to vibrant life despite its dark winter weather.

Whether you've seen the film or not, whether you liked the film or not, this musical production of Groundhog Day is one to put into your calendar.


Venue: Princess Theatre, 163 Spring St, Melbourne
Season: Until 7 April | Tues 6:30pm, Wed - Fri 7:30pm, Sat 2pm and 7:30pm, Sun 1pm and 6:30pm
Duration: 150 minutes with a 20 minute interval
$56 - $235
Bookings: Ticketek

Image credit: Jeff Busby

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