Actor Andy Karl’s onstage injury during a performance of Groundhog Day has overshadowed everything else about the new Broadway musical, especially since it happened the night before I was supposed to see the show. Now that he’s back, seemingly none the worse for wear despite the brace he wears on his knee—which is humorously referenced during the show—it demonstrates both what a trouper he is and how unsurprising it was that he got hurt in the first place.
Groundhog Day, based on the amusing but one-note 1993 Bill Murray comedy about an egotistical weatherman, Phil Connors, forced to relive the title day over and over again, is an exceptionally difficult show to pull off technically. Ace director Matthew Warchus and his ingenious choreographer Peter Darling put their cast in constant movement, along with Rob Howell’s gracefully flexible sets, all of which keep reappearing in various permutations whenever Phil keeps reliving his days, whether the bedroom of his bed and breakfast, the local diner, the place where Punxsutawney Phil might see his shadow, etc.
The pinpoint onstage movements make for some very precarious situations—intentionally of course—as when the costumed “Groundhog Guy” keeps swinging his sun on a stick and knocks Phil in the head. Such tiny milliseconds’ worth of just missing this, or just outrunning that, or jumping something else seemed to lead Karl to take his injurious tumble. But he’s back up there, still plugging away, showing no signs of slowing down. His performance is a comic tour de force: Karl can sing, act, and move easily onstage, all of which he needs to make a charming, charismatic, funny and even sympathetic Phil, sometimes outclassing Bill Murray’s original comic portrait.
Phil Minchin’s songs are serviceable without being particularly distinguished; since the point of the show is repetition, we hear more of several of the songs than we should, and which is more than they can handle. The cast provides Karl with estimable support, particularly the appealing Barrett Doss as Rita, the local TV producer who eventually falls for Phil over the course of many repeated days. But Groundhog Day is as daffily delightful as it is because of Andy Karl.
Songs by Tim Minchin; book by Danny Rubin; directed by Matthew Warchus
Opened April 17, 2017
August Wilson Theatre, 245 West 52nd Street, New York, NY
Andy Karl in “Groundhog Day” – photo credit: Joan Marcus