It is not everyday that one of my favorite movies of all times gets turned into a real, live action, West End big budget musical with talent of the likes of Tim Minchin doing the music and lyrics. I mean wow. What an event! I was ready to buy tickets to it from the moment I saw it was happening (January?) but only actually got them in May for the soonest possible date I could go, which was in July. Preview, shmeview, GIVE ME THE GOODS.
I’m really sorry that I didn’t keep track of all of the songs so you musical theater buffs out there could get a nice whiff of fresh musical (AAAH the smell of fresh musical in the morning), but I was very busy paying attention to the show and not taking copious notes. Anti-preview review kill joys would just complain anyway. HEY, IF YOU’RE ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE, STOP READING, I DON’T WANT YOU TO READ THIS AND THEN COMPLAIN ABOUT IT. IT’S A REVIEW OF A PREVIEW. NOBODY IS FORCING YOU TO READ THIS SO JUST GO AWAY IF YOU ARE GOING TO COMPLAIN.
The show is set up on a revolve – pretty darned appropriate given that it’s all taking place on one day – and the central location for a lot of it is the tiny room our male lead Phil “just like the groundhog!” (Andy Karl) wakes up in morning after morning to relieve a particularly unremarkable day in his life, when he discovers he has been snowed in and is stuck in Punxatawney, Pennsylvania. Why is he experiencing this one day over and over again? We’ll never know, but watching the madness that ensues as a day’s trivia replays over and over again is somewhat hypnotizing. Phil, of course, is at first mystified, then mad, then bored, then suicidal … then, at last, accepting. He gets the opportunity to sing all sorts of crazy songs as he tries to break the day in new and different ways. Different characters briefly come into the spotlight, but the focus comes to be on the producer he’s working with … Rita (Carlyss Peer). He is trying to sleep with her, but, frankly, he’s such a sleaze you don’t want to see him succeed. But slowly … he manages to evolve. And finally, against all odds, you begin to hope that somehow, he’ll win her over … and break out of the loop.
The night I went, there were still some sound quality issues being worked through, and it was running a bit long, but it felt very close to what it wanted to be (and just a few nights away from formal opening). I found myself wishing it had a lot more dancing in it, because, well, it’s a musical, and, well, why not? The big tap dance number done while the groundhog pounds away on the drums certainly went over well and the show has room for even more extravagant over the top moves – reality is no barrier in the context of this story. But, well, I may not speak for everyone. The audience certainly seemed to enjoy themselves, and the on-stage chemistry between the two leads was quite compelling. I’d say it’s a darn good evening and will, no doubt, quickly be transferring to somewhere else, so best get those affordable Old Vic seats while you still can.
(This review is for a preview performance that took place on July 23, 2016. It’s booking through September 17th. There are a LOT of sex jokes, so don’t bring under 14s is my advice.)