Groundhog Day is finally here.
The dog days of summer are finally with us, even in London and Edinburgh (two of three places I’ve been in the last week, along with Copenhagen and Elsinore), where rain is usually to be expected. If you’re going to find yourself repeating a day on an endless loop, as Phil Connors the hapless weatherman in Groundhog Day is forced to do, it would be much happier to have to do so now than in February in the midst of a Pennsylvania blizzard.
London theatregoers are, meanwhile, having the experience of watching that blizzard in a new stage musical version of Groundhog Day from a sweltering London theatre seat. (West End theatres are routinely lacking in air-conditioning; the Old Vic has installed a temporary system to pump cooler air into the theatre from machinery in the street beside it, but it is not very effective).
Still, the show has become instantly hot, too, after its official opening August 16 produced a run of four and five star rave reviews. The show reunites the key creative team behind the ongoing West End and Broadway hit Matilda , including composer Tim Minchin, director Matthew Warchus, choreographer Peter Darling, designer Rob Howell, lighting designer Hugh Vanstone, illusionist Paul Kieve and musical supervisor and arranger Christopher Nightingale. They have produced a show about which Dominic Cavendish, writing in the Daily Telegraph, has exclaimed, “Something extraordinary has happened at the Old Vic. A much-loved, ingeniously funny and clever Hollywood film has made a triumphant theatrical rebirth—in a show that looks, on first viewing, equal to, and perhaps better than, the movie. Director Matthew Warchus, choreographer Peter Darling and Tim Minchin enjoyed a runaway success with Matilda: the Musical. But their latest venture is in a different league: sophisticated, smart and more adult in theme.” He added, “what is clear is that Groundhog Day is as funny and as touching as you could wish, and it lands with the confidence of an instant classic.”
In a five-star rave in The Times, Ann Treneman declared, “Groundhog Day manages to couple laugh-out-loud British humour with American razzmatazz—not a small ask. Anyway, it’s great. Or have I said that before?” Quite a few critics played with the déjà vu of the show—and in his review for Time Out, Andzrej Lukowski had fun repeating the same opening phrase in every paragraph, before concluding, “Groundhog Day, Tim Minchin’s adaptation of the 1993 Bill Murray classic, is only playing a limited run at the Old Vic, and then it’s going off to Broadway. But I think it’s safe to say that it’ll be back. And back. And back.”
In my own notice for The Stage I declared, “This is a show about déjà vu that, paradoxically, is like no other musical you’ve ever seen. It is daring on a number of levels, not least a narrative conceit that has serious repetition built into it.” And I drew particular attention, of course, the stand-out performance of Broadway actor Andy Karl, making his London debut as Phil Connors. As I wrote, “Karl is both a captive and captivating presence. He’s a Broadway actor I saw last year doing scene-stealing supporting character comic work in a New York revival of On the Twentieth Century. Before that, he brought a brooding physicality to an otherwise misfiring stage version of Rocky, but this is surely his calling card to stardom. Karl exudes confident masculinity, yet moves through despair towards acceptance of his helplessness that shows real vulnerability.”
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Allegro gets its long-overdue stage British premiere.
Nearly 70 years after its original Broadway bow, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s third musical (after Oklahoma! and Carousel) has finally received its British premiere in a production at Southwark Playhouse. Noting this lengthy time it has taken to get here, Dominic Cavendish says in his review for the Daily Telegraph, “It’s only now, almost 70 years after its Broadway premiere, that Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Allegro (1947) is enjoying its first full professional run in Europe. I think we’re allowed a wry smile at that. Allegro is a musical style characterised by briskness of tempo and liveliness of spirit. The transatlantic progress of the dynamic pair’s third stage collaboration (which only lasted 315 performances) has been, by glaring contrast, molto lente to say the least. As you watch Thom Southerland’s zestily committed revival at Southwark Playhouse, it’s not hard to fathom why the show failed to take off first time round, and why it has taken so long to dock over here.”
In The Guardian, Michael Billington is also more convinced by the production than the show itself, but declares, “Rodgers, inevitably, writes good tunes. So far, sung by Joe’s campus date, is a real winner. The use of a permanent onstage chorus also reaches fulfillment in the title song, which evokes the fast, frenetic pace of city life where ‘our music must be galloping and gay’: watching the cast dance till they almost drop in Lee Proud’s choreography is a genuine delight.”
For Paul Taylor, writing in The Independent, it is “a lovely heartfelt production that takes you into the soul of a lost gem.”
News and casting
David Bowie will feature twice over in London in October, with the London bow of Lazarus—his last work that premiered Off-Broadway before his death—at the King’s Cross Theatre and From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads, an homage and celebration that is to staged at London’s Waterloo East Theatre from October 18. A new dance show, The Last Tango, is to have a residency at the West End’s Phoenix Theatre from September 22, marking the final public bow of dance duo Vincent Simone and Flavia Cacace who have danced together for 20 years and previously been seen in the West End in Midnight Tango and Dance ‘Til Dawn. A new touring produciton of Frank Wildorn’s 2011 Broadway musical Wonderland is to feature Kerry Ellis as Alice at some dates, beginning in Edinburgh in January 2017.
For further news…
Stay tuned to Playbill.com—and follow me on Twitter here, @shentonstage, for rolling news updates as they happen.