Tim Minchin’s latest musical looks set to follow in the footsteps of his hit show Matilda.
After the huge success of Matilda the Musical – which won eight Olivier Awards, five Tonys and a record-breaking 13 Helpmanns – Tim Minchin’s latest musical Groundhog Day was hotly anticipated.
Andy Karl (centre) plays Phil Connors in Groundhog Day. Photo by Manuel Harlan
The show opened overnight at London’s Old Vic Theatre and the critical response has been extremely positive. Based on the 1993 film Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray, it tells the story of Phil Connors, an arrogant, womanising, jaundiced Pittsburgh television weatherman who is sent to cover the annual Groundhog Day event in the hick town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Finding himself trapped in a time loop, he is forced to keep reliving the same day – and gradually becomes a better man.
Written by Minchin (music and lyrics) and Danny Rubin (who wrote the original film), and staged by the same creative team as Matilda, led by director Matthew Warchus, the show has drawn four and five star reviews. In a five-star review in The Independent, Dominic Cavendish said: “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.” Roger Crow in The Huffington Post agreed that the musical “not only recrafts Bill Murray’s best film for the stage but enhances the source material.” Mark Shenton in The Stage gave it five stars and called it “an absolute triumph”, describing Minchin’s score as “evocative and exhilarating…. supremely melodic, magical, haunting and hilarious.”
Reviewing for The Guardian, Michael Billington found it “fantastically smart, clever and witty” but said it left his “heart untouched”. Giving it four stars, Billington concluded: “while the show is high-grade fun, I enjoyed it more for its dazzling theatrical expertise than for its much thinner emotional content.” Despite a few caveats, Ben Brantley in The New York Times was impressed, saying: “It is cool (as in hip) and warm (as in cuddly); it is spiky and sentimental. And it transforms its perceived weaknesses into strengths in ways that should disarm even veteran musical-haters.”
In a four-star review, Time Out London didn’t think it as good as Matilda, finding it “a little bit more slick and saccharine. It is still bloody good, and probably the third best British musical of the twenty-first century.” Clive Paget, editor of Limelight, disagreed, believing that Groundhog Day is better than Matilda. In a five-star review, he said: “Warchus and his writers have worked dramaturgical wonders. Where Matilda, for all its joyous anarchy, occasionally dragged, Groundhog Day crackles with pace, zipping through its tale-telling with admirable efficiency. Minchin’s music is richer, more affectingly melodic than in his previous score, with numbers that are more likely to stay with you,” adding “Rubin’s book is tight and packed with great one-liners, but delivers the requisite emotional wallop as Connors journeys from sinner to saint.”
Groundhog Day is already lined up for Broadway. Let’s hope it makes it to Australia more quickly than its predecessor Matilda.