As soon as I heard tickets for Tim Minchin’s latest project, Groundhog Day, had been released, I bought my ticket. I’ve not actually seen the classic film, so my thoughts are based on the musical as a standalone, having known nothing about the story.
I have really mixed feelings about the show, which overall are very positive but with a few question marks left over. I’m going to start with the less positive thoughts and move through to the highlights.
Firstly, it really was ‘a show of two halves’. Act One was fantastic: slick, laugh-out-loud funny, great staging and we spent the interval talking about how brilliantly the show had been done. Act Two retained the feeling of the show but felt incomplete. I think for me this was partly because I just wasn’t the biggest fan of the story. I like the concept but the context is a little odd and I found it very hard to identify with many characters. Even the main character I really enjoyed watching and thought it was played brilliantly but I wasn’t ‘rooting for him’.
That’s a personal thing which I’m sure many would disagree with, though.
Another thought on Act Two which really turned me off was the attempted suicide scene. It’s an integral point in the story and I understand they were going for the dark humour angle but this song took it way too far and I felt incredibly uncomfortable. Having actor after actor dressed as the lead acting out different methods of suicide was just a no-go for me, and left me very unimpressed.
I also thought opening Act Two with a solo from a character who doesn’t feature hugely in the show was in interesting choice, as was the soloist in the scene with the homeless man in the park – both songs were sung well (‘Being Nancy’ was beautiful), but felt like they were floating and disconnected from the overall narrative.
My final point on Act Two is that the repetition element seemed less clever. There were a lot of scenes repeated where I felt too much of the dialogue was repeated before the ‘twist’ for that day was introduced, which really slowed the pace of the second half after such a fantastic Act One.
Moving on from these elements, I was thoroughly impressed I was by the staging of Groundhog Day. The rotating stage adds a fantastic visual element, mirroring the repetitive aspect of the story and making scene changes and choreography more fast-paced and interesting to watch. It must have taken some practice to not feel horrendously dizzy after every performance! The set and props were well-crafted and scene changes were very quick and seamless – I was a particular fan of the bedroom/guesthouse set and the all-American diner.
My highlight of the show was the song in the bar, which was hilarious but also with very poignant messages. These are the kinds of songs Tim Minchin really shines in – you’re laughing but they’re hitting a nerve at the same time. I also loved how the car chase was done in terms of staging – so creative and not like anything I’ve seen before.
The ensemble are incredibly strong. The group numbers had such strength and vitality, and all of the individual smaller characters were well-played and had their own brilliant moments. The song about spring being on the way ‘if not tomorrow, perhaps the day after’ was really beautiful and I’d have loved a reprieve of this at the end.
Phil Connors, played by Andy Karl, is a really interesting character in that he goes on an incredibly important personal journey and you want him to succeed but also don’t particularly like him that much, I didn’t anyway. That’s the character I’m talking about, not Karl. Andy Karl was a fitting leading man. He handled the broad range of emotions and moods required with ease, and it’s rare to see someone handle both comedy and dark moments so incredibly well without ever losing their character.
This may be an unpopular opinion, but for me Carlyss Peer wasn’t quite the right fit for Rita vocally. In terms of the straight acting scenes, she was spot on, but I found her vocals quite harsh, and on bigger songs in particular it was too much. In Rita and Phil’s duet towards the end of the show I thought the balance wasn’t really there, and found myself wishing it was another Andy Karl solo.
So there we have it, I think writing this has made me realise my feelings were even more mixed than I realised. It is undeniably a clever, well-crafted and funny musical, which surpassed my expectations.
However, at the same time there were things which really stood out to me as uncomfortable or not quite right, and it’s left me a bit confused. I wonder if the best next step might actually be to watch the film to find the inspiration, but wonder if that takes away from the musical, as it should surely be able to stand alone for new audiences as well as film fans.
I’m really pleased I went to see it, and look forward to seeing where the musical will head next.