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Why Groundhog Day is even better as a Broadway musical

You absolutely must go laugh too hard, cry too much and find a new outlook on life at the Groundhog Day musical.
Andy Karl is the beating heart of Groundhog Day the musical as Phil Connors. Credit: Joan Marcus

The Groundhog Day musical is closing on Broadway soon.

Judging by the reactions of my friends, not many of you have heard about it (though if you caught Metro’s Spring Arts Guide, it was one of our recommended shows — not to mention glowing reviews in the New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, Hollywood Reporter, etc.)

But now that you know, your response was probably to rightly wonder, “Why did a perfectly good movie need to be remade into a musical?”

Glad you asked:

It’s true, 1993’s Groundhog Day is the rare film that’s both critically acclaimed and beloved by audiences. By turns funny and heartbreaking, curmudgeonly weatherman Phil Connors gets caught in a time loop where every day is February 2, and he must become a better man to break the cycle.

Bill Murray gave an iconic performance — which is why Broadway’s Phil, Andy Karl, doesn’t try to imitate him. More arrogant than world-weary, his Phil is the kind of man whose life the powers that be relish turning upside-down.

Radiating charm even as the arrogant prick who first wakes up in the shabby B&B singing “I have been forecasting too many years / To be talking to hicks about magical beavers,” Karl bounces fantastically between desperate head case consulting charlatans for help, carefree hedonist who turns Punxsutawney into his own personal Las Vegas, and eventually spiraling down into a jaw-droppingly dark suicide montage before earning his redemption with the help of Rita (the warmly sarcastic Barrett Doss).

It’s an intense performance, both emotionally and physically — in fact, Karl tore his ACL onstage during a preview performance yet still finished the final song before going to the emergency room, and came back to officially open the show 72 hours later. A marmot that can predict the weather isn’t the only magical element of this production.

The show doesn’t just stick to the script, either. Whereas the movie leaned on the comedic beats of Phil’s journey, this Groundhog Day traffics more in the philosophy thanks to a soundtrack that’s salty, laugh-out-loud funny and earnest without being saccharine by composer/lyricist Tim Minchin.   

The Australian stand-up comic, whose only previous musical theater credit was the similarly acclaimed Matilda, pinballs between genres along with the many Phils, jazz and bluegrass and waltz and nu-metal keeping the show’s manic energy so high you’ll be buzzing for days afterward.

There’s so much more to love, like Minchin ingeniously weaving in the townspeople to be more than just set dressing to Phil’s drama, a bona fide car chase on a Broadway stage, a spinning Tilt-a-Whirl (this especially spry cast is dancing on five turntables that turn in both directions). It’s a dizzying ride that will bring you to tears — as it did to Bill Murray — and remind you that we’re all Phil Connors: Even if each day feels the same, it’s always an opportunity to do something different.

You gotta love life. You gotta love life. You gotta love Groundhog Day.

Groundhog Day closes Sept. 17 at the August Wilson Theater. Tickets start at $39.50, but you should spring for an orchestra seat to have the best experience. Eva Kis received no free tickets or other incentives to write this story, other than hoping more people will get the chance to enjoy the show.

 
 
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