Composer Tim Minchin Brings 'Groundhog Day' To Broadway

Apr 17, 2017
Originally published on April 17, 2017 8:31 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Tonight a musical adaptation of the popular film "Groundhog Day" opens on Broadway. It's the story of a cynical weatherman who's forced to relive the same day over and over again. You may remember Bill Murray's deadpan performance in the movie. While it makes for great comedy, Jeff Lunden tries to figure out if it sings.

JEFF LUNDEN, BYLINE: Back in the early 1990s, Danny Rubin came up with a screenplay where a man gets caught in a time loop. It ended up in director Harold Ramus' hands, who passed it on to Bill Murray, and, well, the rest is history.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GROUNDHOG DAY")

BILL MURRAY: What would you do if you were stuck in one place, and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered? That about sums it up for me.

LUNDEN: That scene with Murray at a bar with a couple of drunks has transferred intact to the musical. Andy Karl plays Phil, the egotistical, perplexed weatherman.

ANDY KARL: And the two drunk guys sort of look at their own lives in that day and take a real glance inside and realize they haven't accomplished much. It's a great laugh, but it's so true, and everybody gets it in the audience.

LUNDEN: And since it's a musical, the next thing they do is sing.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "GROUNDHOG DAY")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (Singing) I wake up hungover. I go to bed smashed, like an alcoholic hamster on one of them little wheely (ph) things.

LUNDEN: "Groundhog Day" the musical is the brainchild of director Matthew Warchus and songwriter Tim Minchin, who collaborated on the hit show "Matilda." Minchin says he was immediately struck by the infinite possibilities.

TIM MINCHIN: Groundhog Day is just such an amazing conceit for theatre. To me, the idea of a person trapped in a confined scenario the parameters of which they don't understand - it's more like "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" or "Waiting For Godot" than anything.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "GROUNDHOG DAY")

KARL: (Singing) One bar, one store, one clock...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (Inaudible).

KARL: (Singing) One diner, one bank, one cop.

LUNDEN: And he's written a score where songs repeat and transform.

MINCHIN: The first 30 minutes of the musical, which is my favorite bit, is sort of quite hard to cope with. It's something that by the time you get to the 20th minute or whatever where he's on the third repeat, you should feel a bit like - get me out of here.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "GROUNDHOG DAY")

KARL: (Singing) All haystacks and horses where there should be golf courses and one bar, one store, one clock, one diner, one bank, one cop.

LUNDEN: The musical's creators had to confront the film's immense popularity, so they recruited the original screenwriter Danny Rubin to write the book.

DANNY RUBIN: We had 20 intervening years of my interacting with the public (laughter). And they told me their stories and how the movie changed their life and how it changed the way they looked at things. And it was pretty obvious that we couldn't ignore that.

LUNDEN: So a lot of stuff from the movie is onstage, including the sequence where Phil tries to commit suicide again and again to end the torture of repeating the same day. That song is called "Hope."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "GROUNDHOG DAY")

KARL: (Singing) Never give up hope. Never let yourself be defeated. If you tried it once, you can try again. A new day will follow. There's always tomorrow.

LUNDEN: What keeps "Groundhog Day," both as a film and as a musical, from being just a run-of-the-mill comedy is that with the repetition of the same day, the self-centered weatherman eventually transforms into a better person, says director Matthew Warchus.

MATTHEW WARCHUS: For me, it is a story about infinite mercy, in a way, because the central character suffers, but he is given - or he gets - infinite number of second chances. And the result of that is that his eyes open, and he becomes aware of a different way of behaving.

LUNDEN: And songwriter Tim Minchin says that's something to which anyone can aspire.

MINCHIN: We're all in our own groundhog days, and we all of us need to be able to see the happiness where it already is.

LUNDEN: Which is a message "Groundhog Day" the musical repeats in different ways over and over. For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "GROUNDHOG DAY")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (Singing) I know now. I know. Yes, I know now. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.