After a beleaguered preview period marred by technical malfunctions and an injury, the new musical “Groundhog Day” based on the 1993 film of the same name opened on Monday, April 17. Directed by Tony Award winner Matthew Warchus (“God of Carnage”) and featuring music and lyrics by Tony nominee Tim Minchin (“Matilda The Musical”), the show stars Andy Karl in the role of sardonic weatherman Phil Connors, originated on screen by Bill Murray, who nightmarishly relives the same day in the twee town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.
Prior to this Broadway mounting, “Groundhog Day” debuted on the West End to strong notices and recently nabbed two Olivier Awards for Best New Musical and Best Actor in a Musical for Karl. Did American critics react as rapturously to this production as their UK counterparts?
Overall, “Groundhog Day” received mixed-to-positive reviews. With his Critic’s Pick seal of approval, Ben Brantley (New York Times) deems the show “dizzyingly witty” and applauds its “fertile and feverish theatrical imagination,” with particular praise for the “outrageously inventive,” “newborn, bona fide musical star” Karl, who “is giving not one but many of the best performances of the season.” David Rooney (Hollywood Reporter) similarly applauds Karl for delivering “a musical-comedy performance of the highest caliber,” also singling out the “ingenious” staging and design of the show and Minchin’s songs, which are “rich in the customary caustic wit of his lyric writing.”
Not all critics relished in the opportunity to relive the titular day numerous times over the course of the two and a half hour musical, though. Jesse Green (Vulture), for example, calls the show a “very grating and repetitive experience” with “baggy and lazy” songs and a “too faithful… literal and choppy” adaptation of the film, though he also lauds Karl, stating, “It’s hard to imagine another musical leading man who could handle the relentless physical comedy, balance the character’s smart and charm, then take the portrayal to the darker place where it finally needs to go.” While David Cote (Time Out New York) also loves Karl’s “inexhaustible physical and vocal energy,” he similarly finds the show “gratingly cartoonish” with a book that “lacks focus and drive” and songs that feature Minchin’s “clever-me, overstuffed tendencies.”
Based on this critical response, how might “Groundhog Day” fare at the upcoming Tony Awards?
With the majority of critics finding more to like than dislike about the show, “Groundhog Day” seems to be the likely fourth Best Musical contender behind “Come From Away,” “Dear Evan Hansen,” and “Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812,” with the recently-opened “War Paint” and the still-to-open “Anastasia” nipping at its heels.
Regardless of what critics thought of the musical overall, Karl received universal rave reviews and will be a shoo-in for a Best Actor in a Musical nomination. Karl has two previous Tony bids for his leading role in the musical “Rocky” and supporting turn in a recent revival of “On the Twentieth Century.” Considering his rising reputation in the industry he could even threaten current frontrunner Ben Platt (“Dear Evan Hansen”) for the trophy. If the show nabs another acting nomination, it would most likely be for Barrett Doss, who plays Phil’s producer and eventual love interest Rita and who received many warm notices.
The creative team faces more uncertain odds. While the Tony nominating committee previously embraced composer / lyricist Minchin for his work on “Matilda,” his smorgasbord of musical styles and false rhymes in “Groundhog Day” didn’t sit well with many critics, which could cost him a nomination in a year overstuffed with new scores. Likewise, book writer Danny Rubin, who co-wrote the film’s screenplay with Harold Ramis, may very well earn a nomination for successfully adapting the beloved movie to the stage, but some critics felt the book hewed too closely to its source material and as a result shortchanged its potential theatricality.
Director Warchus could also be rewarded for his brisk and highly complicated staging of the show, but only if the small panel of nominators don’t find its frenetic pace too off-putting, as some critics observed. Should Warchus earn a nomination, scenic designer Rob Howell, who won a Tony for Best Scenic Design for “Matilda” back in 2013, will most likely earn one as well for his massive and inventive turntable set, but its well-publicized technical issues may halt his momentum.
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