Stuart King

Review: GROUNDHOG DAY at Old Vic

This theatregoer waxed lyrically about the London production of GROUNDHOG DAY back in September 2016. Subsequently, its Broadway transfer added a clutch of Tony nominations to the Olivier award it won for Best New Musical. Now back in London with Andy Karl once again leading the cast as cynical womanising weatherman Phil Connors, the run at the Old Vic is sure to dazzle audiences once more.

The Company in Groundhog Day at The Old VicThe Company in Groundhog Day at The Old Vic

Bill Murray’s original creation of Phil Connors, the arrogant and contemptuous TV weatherman who finds himself trapped in a time loop whilst conducting an outside broadcast in a Pennsylvania backwater named Punxsutawney, achieved instant cult status when the movie was released in 1993. The town and its unsophisticated apple-pie inhabitants depend on a short-lived annual burst of notoriety as their famed ground-dwelling rodent is forcibly woken from hibernation on 2nd February and made to predict how long winter will continue (determined by whether he appears to spy his own shadow)! The entire unsophisticated pantomime is viewed with barely disguised derision by our jaded anti-hero whilst his cameraman and producer tolerate and attempt to temper his obnoxious behaviour.

Danny Rubin (who conjured the original film script) collaborated with the team who brought us Matilda — namely comic lyricist Tim Minchin and director Matthew Warchus — in bringing the musical version to the stage, here choreographed by Lizzi Gee. Thankfully, with seasoned leading man Andy Karl at the helm, the life-affirming journey from complacent curmudgeon, through to shining empath is in safe hands. Introduced as deadpan, sardonic, self-absorbed and playfully impish, he transitions through depressed, frustrated, resigned and suicidal, on to reflective, considerate and ultimately loveable. His conversion to full-blown saint in the space of a two hour show is especially noteworthy given the repetition inherent and necessary to the plot — where each variation results in a new and snappy outcome. These twists require a host of cleverly choreographed and disguised positional swaps to get our leading man back under the covers in readiness for the morning alarm — all of which were accomplished with aplomb on opening night, much to the delight of the celeb-filled audience.

As expected Mr Karl is at the top of his game in a role he has made his own, but he is ably supported by a universally excellent cast, notably Tanisha Spring as Rita Hanson the producer of his TV weather segment and ultimate love interest. Other highlights include moments where characters display their vulnerability. An attractive gal named Nancy (Eve Norris) who has become used to being an object of attention for her looks alone, tugs heartstrings with her yearning to be seen as something more, whilst an irritating former school acquaintance Ned Ryerson who now peddles insurance for a living (Andrew Langtree), recounts how the beautiful mother of his multiple off-spring recently passed, leaving him stoic but broken-hearted.

You would be hard-pressed to find a slicker, more stylish and wholly enjoyable piece of theatre in London right now. Miss it at you peril.