Review: ‘Groundhog Day: The Musical’ at SF Playhouse (****)

by Charles Kruger

The residents of Punxatawney, PA, are excited about Groundhog Day. Photo Credit: Jessica Palopoli.
Reviewed by a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle.

If you are not a fan of the movie, “Groundhog Day,” (which seems unlikely, if you’ve seen it), the musical is not likely to convince you, but if you are, you will not be disappointed in this delightful adaptation. This show has all the fun of the movie, plus a charming score and the pleasure of living actors.

It is impossible to share the premise without a bit of spoiling, but probably worth it. Here’s the skinny: Phil Connors is an obnoxious egoist of a celebrity weatherman who is pretty upset at having been sent to small-town Punxatawney, Pennsylvania on February 2nd, Groundhog Day  The whole town gathers to party at Gobblers Knob and discover if Punxatawney Fred (a celebrity groundhog) will spy his shadow. Legend has it that if Fred sees his shadow, then winter will last several more weeks, but if the day is too overcast for shadow-spotting, then an early Spring can be expected.

Silly? Of course. But the good folk of Punxatawney bundle up to celebrate the occasion with gusto, including marching bands and a parade with folks dressed up as groundhogs. It is good old fashioned fun, but for our boy Phil, it is the stuff of nightmares. The story takes a surreal turn when Phil wakes up the following morning, preparing to return to his New York home, and discovers it is yesterday all over again, a kind of Deja Voodoo. Phil is caught in a Mobius strip of time, condemned to relive Groundhog Day over and over and over again.

Of course, he must learn to adjust and become less of a nincompoop and more of a mensch and he does. The joy is in the journey.  The show is a delightful tilt-a-whirl from reality to trippsville and back again. It is haunting, funny, merry, and scary.

When it premiered at the Old Vic in London, it won two Olivier awards, and the Broadway production was nominated for seven Tonys. Musical theatre fans were very much looking forward to the National Tour to follow, but the producer’s unexpectedly pulled the plug. It has thus remained unseen until it was made available for licensing last May. The clever team at SF Playhouse was quick to scoop it up, and the current show is the first professional production since it closed on Broadway.

Ryan Drummond is excellent as Phil Connors, equal parts smarm and charm. He knows how to sing and he knows how to sing funny, too. His take on the character is original, somewhat less cuddly than Bill Murray’s, and very, very good. As love interest Rita, Rinabeth Apostol is also excellent. The supporting cast is enthusiastic and appropriately manic and off-kilter. Susi Damilano’s direction, as usual, is effective and affecting, and the designers have caught the madness and the merriment of this well-loved story.

In the end, it all ends happily for performers, characters, and audience who certainly enjoy a fun ride.

“Groundhog Day: The Musical” continues at SF Playhouse through January 18, 2020. For further information, click here.


“Groundhog Day: The Musical.” Book by Dany Rubin. Music & Lyrics by Tim Minchin. Based on the Columbia Pictures motion picture and the story by Danny Rubin. Director: Susi Damilano. Music Director: Dave Dobrusky. Choreographer: Nicole Helfer. Scenic Designer: Edward T. Morris. Costume Designer: Abra Berman. Lighting Designer: York Kennedy. Sound Designer: Teddy Hulsker. Properties Designer: Jacquelyn Scott. Projection Designer: Teddy Hulsker.  Intimacy and Fight Director: Zoe Swenson-Graham.

Cast:

Phil Connors: Ryan Drummond. Rita Hanson: Rinabeth Apostol. Nancy/Joelle/Healer: Sophia Introna. Larry/Gus: Scott Taylor-Cole. Mrs. Lancaster/Healer: Larissa Kelloway. Mrs. Cleveland/Stormchaser/Healer: Danielle Philapil. Mr. Cleveland/Stormchaser/Elder: Michael Motroni. Debbie/Nurse: Loreigna Sinclair. Fred/Ralph: Jorge Luis Diaz. Sheriff/Healer: Anthony Rollins-Mullens. Jenson/Elder: David Schiller. Buster/Healer/Director: Dean Linnard. Buster/Healer/Director: Michael Gene Sullivan. Doris/Piano Teacher: Kathryn Hannah. Jeff/Groundhog/Bartender Billy: Montel Anthony Nord. Chubby Man/Deputy: Cameron La Brie. DJs (Recorded Voices): Sarah and Vinnie.

 

 

 

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