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Groundhog Day at the Old Vic, London | Review

Tanisha Spring (Rita Hanson) and Andy Karl (Phil Connors) in Groundhog Day at The Old Vic
Tanisha Spring (Rita Hanson) and Andy Karl (Phil Connors) in Groundhog Day at The Old Vic.

Have you seen the movie Groundhog Day?” a lady asked her friend as they were walking past The Old Vic. She hadn’t, and I hadn’t either – seeing a weather forecaster reliving the same day repeatedly just didn’t appeal to me. But even I have a general idea of what ‘Groundhog Day’ as a term means when used in society at large – a recurring and unpleasant situation from which there seems to be no end in sight. As for the musical adaptation, eight Olivier and seven Tony nominations can’t be wrong (well, I suppose they can, but it’s unlikely).

I didn’t exactly come out of the theatre humming any of the musical numbers, some of which are very wordy. They are, mind you, very witty too, and propel the narrative forward – these are lyrics I found myself wanting to listen to. Phil Connors (Andy Karl) is stuck in a time loop, waking up at 6:00am by way of an alarm clock and a literal ‘wakeup call’ (that is, by landline telephone) and finding it is 2nd February, even though it was 2nd February the previous day. Quite how this happens isn’t properly explained, with some hilarious theories put forward. Having everything happen ‘yesterday’ all over again is, for Connors, notably excruciating, though there is a (sort of) epiphany moment when he realises he can do anything without consequence. Cue deliberate recklessness, in the form of a surprisingly riveting car chase, which I found utterly joyous.

The staging is, in places, remarkable, and at one point at the performance I attended, elicited audience applause mid-song: Connors goes off stage and reappears again in a different spot almost instantly, as if, dare I say it, by magic. The repetition is there but it is also creative, in that the audience sees 2nd February over and over again but with a shifting emphasis as the performance goes on – and, of course, it helps hugely that Connors himself is at pains to do things differently each time, however slightly. But nothing he does seems to break the cycle – not the use of guns (this is, after all, America), or even self-electrocution: it’s difficult not to feel some sympathy for him, at least in this regard.

There’s some perceptiveness in a story that sees a man in a position of celebrity power in pursuit of women, particularly Rita Hanson (Tanisha Spring), apparently an associate producer (I might have missed it in such a briskly paced show, but I have no idea who she was the associate to). The various attempts to mix the personal with the professional were awkward to witness. Hanson, for her part, is commendably assertive enough to push back against Connors. Nancy (Eve Norris) puts in a discerning and aspirational solo number early in the second half, expressing a desire to be something more than “the perky-breasted, giggly one-night stand”. In a fairly large ensemble of fifteen, the standouts for me were Andrew Langtree’s Ned Ryerson, possibly the only life insurance salesman I’ve ever come across on stage, screen or real life who I warmed to, and Annie Wensak’s Mrs Lancaster, a cheery hotelier whose gratitude after receiving a gift from Connors was quite palpable.

It’s a slick production, with set and props coming on and off seemingly effortlessly. The show’s near-relentless portrayal of a small town being a happy and functional community eventually changes the initially abrasive Connors into a generous and warm-hearted soul, an ending that might as well have come straight out of another Old Vic show, their annual festive offering, A Christmas Carol. And like that show, perhaps this one can return year after year, making comeback after comeback. Faith in humanity is restored in this delightful show: the hype, for once, is to be believed.

5 Star Rating

Review by Chris Omaweng

‘Tomorrow spring will come and then
There will be blue skies my friend
Bright eyes and laughter
Tomorrow there will be sun’
Phil Connors is a pretty awful guy.’

But when the cynical Pittsburgh TV weatherman is sent to cover the kooky annual Groundhog Day event in the small town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, he finds himself caught in a time loop that sends him on a hilarious path to enlightenment and redemption.

A comic parable of love, hope and transformation from the creatives behind Matilda The Musical (on stage and film) and The Old Vic’s A Christmas Carol, this Olivier Award-winning (Best New Musical, Best Actor) musical sensation based on the 1993 hit film returns to The Old Vic this summer.

Creative Team
Book – Danny Rubin
Music and Lyrics – Tim Minchin
Director – Matthew Warchus
Choreography – Lizzi Gee
Set and Costume – Rob Howell
Orchestration, Additional Music and Musical Supervisor – Christopher Nightingale
Lighting – Hugh Vanstone
Sound – Simon Baker
Illusions – Paul Kieve
Video and Animation – Andrzej Goulding
Additional Movement – Finn Caldwell
Casting – Will Burton for GBC
Musical Director – Alan Berry
Voice – Charlie Hughes-D’Aeth
Dialect – Penny Dyer
Associate Directors – Paul Warwick Griffin and Nik Ashton
Assistant Director – Natalie Gilhome
Associate Choreography – Helen Siveter
Associate Set – Bec Chippendale and Megan Rouse
Costume Supervisor – Zoë Thomas-Webb
Hair, Wigs and Make-Up – Campbell Young Associates
Prop Supervisor – Marcus Hall Props
Assistant Musical Supervisor – Jack Hopkins
Associate Lighting – Chris Hirst
Associate Sound – Jay Jones

Book by Danny Rubin
Music and Lyrics by Tim Minchin
Directed by Matthew Warchus
Starring Andy Karl
20 May – 12 Aug 2023

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