Sunday, September 3, 2017

Groundhog Day: You've Never Seen This Before

This happens to me every year. I don't see a musical in ages and then I go see one on Broadway and have to keep pinching myself because I must be dreaming, there's no way all of that is happening on stage. Watching Groundhog Day yesterday was no exception, but it was also one of the best musicals I have seen in 16 years of living in Manhattan. My only regret is I didn't go sooner, and it's closing on September 17, so if you live in NYC or will be visiting before then, don't hesitate. Buy a ticket and make haste to the August Wilson Theater.

Where does one start with describing why this show is so phenomenal? Perhaps a brief synopsis for those who haven't seen the movie. It's the story of a cranky weatherman, Phil Connors (played by the talented and dreamy Andy Karl), who has headed to Punxsutawney, PA on February 2nd. He has to cover the annual ritual of Groundhog Day, where people wait to see if a groundhog will see its shadow, thereby predicting six more weeks of winter. He hates this holiday and thinks it is beneath him to cover this story; but in a bizarre twist, he gets stuck in an infinite time loop where he has to re-live this day over and over again. Every morning, his alarm goes off, and it's still February 2nd. What follows is a hilarious evolution: he is first certain he's crazy, then excited to take sleazy advantage of the opportunities these multiple re-dos get him, then depressed about being stuck in this day forever, and finally accepts that this is going to be his life.

Given that plot, this show is a miracle of set design and staging wizardry. It could get awfully boring to have to re-live the same day over and over again, but there is absolutely nothing boring about watching how the actors, stage hands, lighting technicians, and other backstage magicians work in concert to choreograph every aspect of this day so that things run smoothly in the background while Phil has a meltdown over the sameness of it all. Honestly, I could watch this show a dozen more times just to identify more nuances of stage and set design; one particularly standout moment is when they engage in the silliest and most inventive way of depicting a car chase on a Broadway stage.

Apart from the brilliant Andy Karl performance (and truly, it is brilliant, just the way he gets dressed each morning feels like an inspired choice), there is an equally brilliant and moving performance from his co-star, Barrett Doss. She plays Rita, Phil's associate producer, who thinks he's an asshole (her actual words) but becomes his eventual love interest, and she is the true heart of the show. With her beautiful voice and soaring romantic songs, she is the ideal complement to Phil's more sarcastic rock n'roll ditties, and the chemistry between the two of them is heartbreakingly excellent. In fact, it's in those moments, when you simply have the actors on stage singing to each other as snow falls around them and lights twinkle magically, that you forget you're watching a Broadway musical and instead feel like you're watching a real-life romance bloom in front of your eyes.

Aside from the main couple, however, I have to mention two supporting players of note. John Sanders plays Ned Ryerson, the annoying life insurance salesman who has a whole backstory that leads him to sing one of the most moving songs in the whole piece. And Rebecca Faulkenberry plays Nancy. Who is Nancy? Nancy is essentially a nobody in the grand scheme of this plot. But Nancy has the best song in the entire play, a meta commentary on what it is like to be a pretty blonde actress trying to make it when men run the show, and it is the most unexpected and fantastic diversion before the second half resumes course. It is also a testament to the variety of music in this show - it ranges from heavy rock songs, to funny country interludes, to stirring romantic ballads. The lyrics range from raunchy and caustic to romantic and heartwarming (what else could you expect from the genius mind of Tim Minchin?), and the entire show walks that tightrope from start to finish.

Groundhog Day is a transformative piece of art, taking a well-known movie about deja vu and turning into something that feels brand new. The actors are incandescent, the sets and staging are mesmerizing, the music is bewitching, the story is funny, ribald, and moving. It's the perfect package. And if I had the chance to re-live last night over and over again, I wouldn't even think twice. 

No comments:

Post a Comment