Groundhog Day

“A masterclass in theme and variations, Minchin has managed the impossible”

It’s Groundhog Day… again” says a confused Andy Karl as he takes to the stage as Phil in the musical version of Groundhog Day at the Old Vic. Of course, it takes on even more meaning when you consider that this the production’s triumphant return to the Old Vic six years after first premiering to unanimous appeal. While the show had a difficult time on Broadway, it seems to have landed firmly on its feet here at home.

For the uninitiated, the story follows local weatherman and all round awful guy Phil Conners (Karl) as he is forced to live the Groundhog Day festival over and over until he learns… to put it simply… how to live. Now you’ll no doubt be asking why, once more, another film property has been brought to the stage, yet within the course of two and half hours (or hundreds of years in Phil’s case), the production has gone above and beyond to justify its existence - managing to transcend its source material, even going as far as to completely break the mould for musical theatre in general.

To say that Danny Rubin’s book takes you on a journey would be an understatement, as the original screenplay has truly been given the space to breathe on stage. Laugh-out-loud comedy and high emotion create the perfect blend of philosophical study and fulfilling evening entertainment. The utmost attention has been paid to chiselling out the very best of the film and then broadening it, allowing even the smaller characters to have their moment in the spotlight, as they teach Phil everything he needs to know without sounding like a prescribed lecture.

This is helped, in no small part, by the songs crafted by Tim Minchin - proving once again, in just his second majorly produced musical, that when it comes to mixing the profound with the hilarious, there is no one better. His layered composition is written as a whole, and is more than just a collection of songs thrown into a familiar story. Every musical moment has been carefully considered to provide optimum impact to the audience and to the story’s characters. A masterclass in theme and variations, Minchin has managed the impossible, and it’s easy to be reminded exactly why this show won so many Olivier Awards last time round.

Leading the performance in his own award-winning role, Andy Karl is as wonderful and on form as ever. With his experience in the role, it’s clear to see his connection to the character who, without a doubt, takes on one of the biggest transformations in storytelling. And yet as Phil takes a complete one-eighty in the way he sees the world, every moment of it feels truly earned and satisfying. Karl’s charisma and magnetism carries him through as he never leaves the stage, and when the time comes for him to go to places of utter despair and complete euphoria, it is all there clear as day.

Karl is backed up by an incredible ensemble of performers in the ensemble that make up the town of Punxsutawney. His producer, and later love interest, Rita is played delightfully by Tanisha Spring in a grounded performance that allows for moments of childlike innocence and joy to be covered up at first, and then slowly earned by Phil as he becomes ‘good’. Her chemistry with Karl is natural yet when it’s just her on stage, she leads with force.

Notable mentions of the cast, without spoilers here, include Eve Norris as Nancy and Andrew Langtree (another returning cast member from the show’s original run) as Ned Ryderson. While at first they appear as mere characters in the background of Phil’s day, Act Two provides them with moments that really open up their personal story and provide a greater context to life as a whole.

Yes, Rob Howell’s set may have been reduced slightly, but nothing has been taken fully away from the Groundhog Day many know and love. Paul Kieve’s illusions are still awe inspiring and excellently weaved into the storytelling of the piece and set pieces such as ‘Nobody Cares’ and ‘Philanthropy’ still have the same joyfully theatrical prestige.

You’re going to have to do everything you can to get a ticket to this beloved production, it’s selling fast, but if you can’t see it tomorrow, perhaps the day after? All we hope now is that while this show is getting it’s time again until 19 August at the Old Vic, hopefully it lives on… and on… and on… and on… 

This show was reviewed on the 8th June 2023.  Groundhog Day runs at The Old Vic until the 19th August 2023.  Tickets available here: Groundhog Day | Old Vic Theatre

Review written by Callum Wallace*

*Please note, this review also features on West End Best Friend

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Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

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