BWW Review: GROUNDHOG DAY THE MUSICAL at SF Playhouse is a Story of Redemption and Hope
Groundhog Day the Musical
Music and Lyrics by Tim Minchin
Book by Danny Rubin
Directed by Susi Damilano
You've got a chance to re-think your life by experiencing the same day over and over till you get it right. Such is the premise of Groundhog Day, the 1983 film starring Bill Murray as Phil Connors, a newsman caught in the Nietzschean concept of reliving your life infinite times over and over. Director Susi Damilano and crew tackles the 2016 musical adaptation and literally runs with it, creating a piece that moves vibrantly in a time constrained circle of kinetic energy.
TV newsman Phil Connors isn't thrilled to be reporting on the time-honored tradition of Groundhog Day in small-town Punxsutawney, PA. Arrogant and condescending, Connors treats his crew and the happy townspeople with disdain and contempt. Local favorite Ryan Drummond carries the production with his strong voice and increasing frustration at waking up every day to re-live the same sequence of events. Smarmy and self-absorbed, Drummond's Connors is not a feel-good character and hardly empathetic. There's little joy and no joy in his existence, counter-balanced by the exuberance and goodwill of the townsfolk.
Groundhog Day signals either 6 more weeks of winter or the advent of spring (rebirth), but while the happy people sing of hope and sun ("February 2nd " | "There Will be Sun"), Phil sings of being hopelessly stuck ("Stuck"). Every morning he's shocked to find himself re-living the humdrum activities over and over. Edward T. Morris' turntable set wonderfully illustrates the circular repetitive movement while Nicole Helfer's choreography represents the liveliness and cheerfulness that eludes Connors.
Music Director Dave Dobrusky turns the score into gold as does the exemplary cast of supporting characters. Rinabeth Apostol play's Connor's beleaguered producer Rita, herself searching for the Mr. Right ("One Day"). Like oil and water, the two tangle on both his lackadaisical work ethic and his macho bravado. But over the ensuing February 2nds, as Connors figures out what is happening, he manipulates his circumstances to gain an edge over Rita and worm his way into her heart. Still not an empathetic character, Connors will eventually realize love and redemption ("Seeing You").
Excellent supporting roles are delivered by Sophia Introna as Nancy ("Playing Nancy") and Dean Linnard as the nerdy but kind Ned Ryerson ("Nobody Cares"). Groundhog Day the Musical may seem gimmicky and trite, but for this holiday season it's a message of hope - hope that we can affect change in ourselves and others through re-examination. Through repetition we live, but we can change attitudes and events for the affirmative.
Groundhog Day the Musical continues through January 18, 2019 at SF Playhouse, 450 Post Street, San Francisco. Tickets available at www.sfplayhouse.org or by calling 415-677-9597.
Photos by Jessica Palopoli