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Monday, July 18, 2016

Groundhog Day the musical - a review (no spoilers)

My brother is a lucky person. To be fair to him, he sort of makes his own luck. He's gregarious, interested in people and will talk to absolutely anyone. On the other hand a) I wouldn't really go anywhere out of choice where there would be lots of people and b) if forced, I would likely corner the one or two people I do know and then leave early. We are different in that way. But my brother has the knack of finding the person who can lend him (for free) a penthouse apartment in Tokyo, or a few hours in a recording studio, or directed his favourite childhood show... and will then invite him for dinner. All these things have literally happened to him.

Well, on Friday, I think I got a bit of his luck. I'm not sure how his day went. Perhaps he had my evening... a quiet night in with some Netflix and a home-cooked meal and a baby that needed tending every six or seven minutes. I don't care. Because on Friday I got lucky. Not like that.

I'd already been quite lucky in that I'd managed to score £10 preview tickets to the new Groundhog Day musical at the Old Vic. I was even luckier that my parents were able to babysit that day, and luckier still that when we arrived at the theatre, the man at the box office told us that this would actually be a dress-rehearsal instead of a preview... so our tickets would be free.

Yes, folks, I got free theatre tickets to what will soon be the hottest show in London - and an extra bonus that before the show started, the director, writer and songwriter came up on stage to introduce the show.  Apparently it was touch and go as to whether it was going ahead tonight - but Tim Minchin's parents were over from Australia and in the audience, so it had to happen! I hadn't realised that Danny Rubin (who wrote the film) had also written the book for the musical, which relaxed me a bit. Groundhog Day is probably in my top five films of all time, and whilst Tim Minchin is an incredibly safe pair of hands, I was a bit anxious about how respectfully the material would be handled. Whilst Matilda is a brilliant musical, I don't think you could really argue that it's incredibly faithful to its source material. For a purist. Side note: Danny Rubin (admittedly viewed from the Gods) looks about 30 years old, so must have written the film when he was about five. This freaked me out a bit.

Minchin always felt a perfect match for Matilda - that perfect combination of hard truths, pulling no punches, but with true sentiment right there in the middle. How would this work with Groundhog Day though? Minchin (rightly) asked that we don't spoil the show for others. In this day of social media, that's a big ask, but this review won't contain spoilers. However, if you see something in it that you feel you'd rather not know, let me know and I'll review. Review the review. See? We're getting all Groundhog Day already.

The set was incredible. The staging was some of the cleverest I've ever seen. There were special effects, which whilst not difficult to work out how they were done, earned a round of applause from the audience. In another production, the set and staging alone would be enough for me to tell you to go and see it.

But not this time. The first song alone had me sitting on the edge of my seat, almost in tears. And I am a hard case. (I could sit on the edge of my seat without inconveniencing anyone behind me as we were literally right at the back of the upper circle. I don't care. The tickets were free.)

Three or four songs will become classics. Probably the only gripe I have for the whole show was that it needed a song at the very end, as there was no proper curtain call. The first song repeated at the end would have been perfect. I would be surprised if this isn't in the pipeline - after all, it was the dress rehearsal we saw. Actually, I do have a second gripe, but it's not really a fair or reasonable one. I guessed that rights issues might cause a problem, but I feel I should warn you, there's no Sonny and no Cher. Phil Connors does not wake up to I Got You Babe every morning. It's no biggie really, but it is an iconic part of the original and I did notice it missing.

What really, really impressed me about the show is that whilst it remained faithful to the film - with many lines word-for-word ("sweet vermouth on the rocks with a twist", anyone? Although no sappy prayer for world peace this time.), it reimagined the situation for the 21st century. Gay couples snap selfies. One cameo character unexpectedly has a beautiful, clever and devastating feminist ballad. The familiar Groundhog Day cameo characters are fleshed out, and as an audience we are challenged to think about why perhaps they don't get that depth in the original. Brave and humble rewriting from the person who wrote the film in the first place. The world has moved on. And so, eventually, has Groundhog Day.

Moreso than in the film, we see the turning point in Phil's psyche where Phil sees the prison of endless days as a gift; this volte face is attributed more to Rita in the musical than I remember in the film (which I will rewatch very soon!). It makes more sense psychologically that she is the catalyst that allows him to delight in endless time and use it productively.

As I mentioned earlier, there was no staged curtain call, just all of the actors coming and taking a bow and then leaving the stage. The house lights came up, but they got such a standing ovation - five minutes or so at least, that the cast (and crew) were dragged back on stage, some of them clearly already partly out of costume. The director left us with the words, "Pay for your tickets next time!"

Do. Book now. It's brilliant. I will see it again. And again, and again.

1 comment:

RSN said...

Great review! Great review! Great review!