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A CurtainUp London Review
If Candlemas Day be fair and bright,
Winter will have another fight.
If Candlemas day brings cloud and rain,
Winter won't come again.
Candlemas Day is 2nd February and its weather predictive powers seem to have crossed the Atlantic as "Groundhog Day", when tradition has it that if Phil the groundhog can see his shadow, then winter will be here for another 40 days. Set in Punxsutawney, Philadelphia there is a whole industry built up around the groundhog's shadowy emergence. Set to cover this provincial story, is national broadcasting weatherman, Phil Connors (Andy Karl). The mundanity of this annual event already has Phil bored out of his tiny mind, but little does he know that he is in for seemingly endless replays this year.
We see the town of Punxsutawney in miniature cut outs like Victorian Christmas cards in Rob Howell's interesting set. The higgeldy piggeldy houses have windows that light up yellow in this small town, a brass band plays cheesy tunes and the townsfolk look very ordinary. The song "Small Town" is stuffed with witty lyrics and we can hear every word. There is beautifully jaded acting from Andy Karl as the celebrity weatherman who is greeted by the locals in the kitsch filled diner.
A blizzard seals off all access in and out of Punxsutawney and the local police pass on the bad news to Phil who was hoping to get back to the city. We see his miniature news van having a spadeful of snow dumped on it. Of course, many of us have seen the film and know that this could be a musical with rather repetitive scenes if not tunes. As Phil wakes up again in his bed and breakfast and they have the same conversation about the coffee machine, the thought dawns on him and us simultaneously, "Will he be there forever?" Is this Jean-Paul Satre's Huis Clos?
There is a lighting switch to green and purple for the mental health hospital ward and a wonderfully clever song about the drugs used in psychiatric medicine. Choreographed psychiatric doctors animate the scene and then the minister is called in to perform an exorcism. As Phil realizes there are no consequences to his actions, he is free to rob the bank and seduce most of the town's female population. The police chase is brilliant as seen in miniature.
The inevitability of time's loop gets to Phil and there is a fabulous scene with endless attempts at suicide . . . . very cleverly using Paul Kieve's illusions. The music has variety from blue grass to rock and lots inbetween. Carlyss Peer as Rita the producer keeps Phil grounded and after the interval, Phil will make amends to all for his previous hard heartedness like some kind of Step programme participant. I found all the redemptive doing good, a tad less enjoyable in the second half, but not everyone is as cynical as I am and likes their musicals dark. I was really impressed by Andy Karl's strong singing voice but even more by his acting ability as only we share the knowledge of the repetition.
Just as I was thinking that the show was a bit short on dance, the whole cast are involved in a tap routine. The musical's plan to go straight to Broadway is in question after a major sponsor withdrew but Groundhog Day deserves to be seen again . . . and again . . . and again.
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Music and Lyrics by Tim Minchin
Book by Danny Rubin
Directed by Matthew Warchus
Starring: Andy Karl, Carlyss Peer
With: Leo Andrew, David Birch, Ste Clough, Roger Dipper, Georgina Hagen, Kieran Jae, Julie Jupp, Andrew Langtree, Vicki Lee Taylor, Emma Lindars, Antonio Magro, Carolyn Maitland, Kirsty Malpass, Lisa Mathieson, Eugene McCoy, Jenny O'Leary, Leanne Pinder, Mark Pollard, Damien Poole, Jack Shalloo, Andrew Spillett, Spencer Stafford
Orchestrator, Additional Music and Musical Supervisor: Christopher Nightingale
Choreographer: Peter Darling
Co-Choreographer: Ellen Kane
Set and Costume Design: Rob Howell
Costume Design: Jonathan Lipman
Lighting Design: Hugh Vanstone
Sound Design: Simon Baker
Musical Director: Alan Berry
Illusions: Paul Kieve
Running time: Two hours 30 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 0844 871 7628
Booking to 17th September 2016
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 17th August 2016 performance at Old Vic, Waterloo Road, London SE1 (Rail/Tube: Waterloo)
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