August Wilson Theatre, New York City, (877) 250-2929
Groundhog Day: The Musical
In the new Broadway adaptation of Groundhog Day, the show’s star “is giving not one but many of the best performances of the season,” said Ben Brantley in The New York Times. He has to, because he is not just reprising one of Bill Murray’s most famous comedy screen turns; he also has to cope with a story in which his character—a jaded TV weatherman forced by fate to relive Groundhog Day and its absurd rituals over and over—must rifle through a vast array of emotional responses before arriving at self-discovery. Backed by a “dizzyingly witty” and cartoon-colored production, 43-year-old Andy Karl so “unconditionally” owns the role that the show is rewarding ticket buyers with “the rare chance to witness the full emergence of a newborn, bona fide musical star.”
Wisely, Karl doesn’t try to be Murray, said Chris Nashawaty in Entertainment Weekly. The onetime star of Broadway’s Rocky comes on as a different type of egomaniac: slickly smug instead of toxi- cally bitter. Yet “it takes Karl all of five minutes to win you over.” The show as a whole needs far longer to click, said Jesse Green in NYMag.com. “Sloppy, thoughtless rhymes” litter Tim Minchin’s original score, making the first half of the show “a very grating and repetitive experience.” Though repetition “goes with the territory,” it slows the action down more on stage than it did on film, despite clever tricks like using puppeteers to stage a police chase in miniature.
The show finds its footing only after the antihero stops using the curse of endless do-overs to attempt to bed his producer (a “lovely” Barrett Doss). Our weatherman must reach existential despair, then slowly rediscover new purpose. When he does, the show’s central metaphor “emerges as the point instead of merely the gimmick.”
“I won’t try to tell you that Groundhog Day: The Musical is a great show,” said Terry Teachout in The Wall Street Journal. “In truth, it’s an entertaining but fundamentally ill-conceived attempt to do the impossible,” because Groundhog Day the movie cannot be improved on, and it hasn’t been. Still, the Broadway version is “much, much better” than the usual musical derived from a hit movie, and it “manages to do far more than merely suggest the quality of the wonderful film on which it’s based.” Thanks to Karl, you might briefly believe it’s a Broadway show for the ages. It isn’t. “But you won’t be even slightly sorry you saw it.” ■