Groundhog Day is all about circularity. Weatherman Phil Connors is trapped in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania reliving the titular February 2 holiday over and over again—a kind of purgatory for the kitsch-loathing Connors. When Tony-nominated composer-lyricist Tim Minchin sat down to write the score to Groundhog Day that circularity was an obvious place to start.
“The most obvious thing is there’s 12 semi-tones in the Western octave and there’s 12 hours in the day,” he says seated at the piano at Feinstein’s/54Below, “and most importantly, a musical octave ends and starts simultaneously.” The classic Bill Murray film was prime territory for a musical adaptation. Then again, Minchin didn’t want to be that simple. He did establish a musical theme that runs throughout multiple songs; it also starts and ends the musical (watch the video above to hear it).
“One of my theories about musicals, which is probably wrong,” he laughs, “is that you limit your harmonic options a bit. Because I think of the whole thing as a piece and everything you’re setting up pays off eventually.”
Minchin’s theory plays out with the rock ballad, “Hope,” near the top of his second act. In the video above, Minchin explains the genesis of this song in the context of his larger musical.
Stuck in the repetitive hell of February 2, Connors, played by Tony nominee Andy Karl, wants nothing more than to make the cycle stop by any means possible. As in the movie, Connors kills himself in a number of ways, only to wake up the “next” Groundhog Day. “I’ve always wanted to write a bit about hope, probably in a stand-up way, because I think it’s such a vacuous idea and in the end it was perfect for this [musical].
“The idea that saying ‘don’t give up hope’ might mean ‘don’t give up hope that you’re going to successfully kill yourself,’ which is obviously quite bleak” excited Minchin from a philosophical perspective. Then again, it was a challenge to write without alienating the audience. “If you’re going to try and do a whole section of a musical which is about multiple suicides, then you’re going to need your old friend satire to make sure it’s not too devastating.”
“Hope” also served as the creative team’s barometer for how dark the musical could (and should) go. “If you’ve set your ‘dark parameter’ then you can build away from that and you can figure out what you need to balance it and what palette cleansers you need,” Minchin explains. “You want to send the audience with a very positive experience, but part of that is sending them to places that they don’t necessarily know they want to go.”
Special thanks to Feinstein’s/54 Below. Go see a cabaret! Tickets and information at 54Below.com.