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Andy Karl, GroundHog Day

Andy Karl

Groundhog Day may be the most entertaining musical ever, in which the score was almost entirely irrelevant, except as a mood setter that happens to utilize lyrics as well as music. I’ll explain that a little later.

GroundHog Day
For now, let’s just get out of the way that the show, based on the hit film, book by its original screenwriter, Danny Rubin, is almost indecently entertaining. And in star Andy Karl, showcases what might well be not only the breakout musical comedy performance of the new millennium, but his own break out performance; he is absolutely as major a star in the musical theater game as Nathan Lane proved to be, with the added spin that he is as credible a romantic lead as he is a character actor.
Andy Karl, GroundHog Day

Andy Karl

He plays Phil Connors, cynical but popular weatherman, who is sent to cover Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney Pennsylvania, this year as he does every second day of February, every year. Feeling he’s above it all, he doesn’t much care if the groundhog sees his shadow or not; nor does he feel any connection to the good ol’ simple, unsophisticated folk of the town. Rude to them, dismissive of his coworkers, he wants nothing more than to file the story and get the hell out. And indeed, he does at least file the story. As to getting out, snowstorm conditions make traveling impossible, so he has to spend the night there…again. And when he wakes up the next morning, it isn’t the next morning. It’s the same morning. The morning of February 2. And he will keep reliving and reliving the day, the only variations in the routine determined by how he chooses to react to the same old situations and stimuli. We in the audience, of course, know that the universe is tacitly giving Phil a lesson in humanism, and that until he sufficiently nurtures and masters his own, within this repeated loop, he will never break free. But he doesn’t know it. And the fun is in watching him come to grips with his fate. And become selfless, not because there’s an endgame, since he doesn’t know there is one, but because that’s the only thing left to do, to make survival bearable.

Phil is an exhausting role for the performer and might well exhaust the audience, due to the almost relentless high energy of the evening, under the hyper-spirited direction of Matthew Warchus—which is a dizzy combination of high-tech effects and simple just-tell-the-story black box technique—but Andy Karl navigates all the possible nuances perfectly. His timing is impeccable, he proves himself a great physical comedian, in the tradition of Kevin Kline and Dick van Dyke, and as if that isn’t embarrassing enough, he also must suffer the indignity of singing wonderfully. The supporting cast ain’t so bad neither.
But now let’s get to that score.
The songs (music and lyrics by Tim [Matilda] Minchin) except for the opening number, and the first number for Phil, rooting his psychology for us, rarely function in any traditional fashion. They don’t really illuminate character, so much as they explicate things we kind of already know about the characters; they don’t really advance the story; they contain almost nothing in the way of subtext. And most of them are novelty songs. The funny ones have a rambling self-awareness that doesn’t so much expand upon character as riff on it; they get their laughs because they’re meta (self-referential), but those are laughs the show pays for too, because they are self-aware, which makes us aware of a writer at work; and because they do ramble, which keeps easily cohesive song structure from taking root. As to the other songs, they provide a kind of sonic bed. For example, in the montage where Phil vainly tries to end it all in many different ways (I won’t tell you how that’s done), he sings a song about never giving up, that you don’t really need to hear, and for the most part don’t, because all the sight gags are pulling focus and the audience is laughing too hard for actual words to be discernible. Minchin  is also not big  on precise  rhyming.  The advent of rap and hip-hop being theatrically mainstreamed (in particular via a show such as Hamilton)  has somewhat given a pass to false rather than precise rhymes in theatre lyrics, but that entails a particular type of wordplay that emulates  hip hop, which is not really the natural vocabulary of the Groundhog Day universe. So once again, inorganic novelty and randomly applied gimmick  keeps the score from being a source of emotional lift  in any significant way. What the songs do,  though, for the most part, is perpetuate tone and attitude;  and when needed, amplify propulsive storytelling energy.
And in that sense, they offer not-great but more-than adequate-support for the aforementioned book by Danny Rubin, which is as skilled a piece of libretto writing in a musical comedy as has come along in quite a while. And which is, of course, hugely faithful to the story and tone of the film.
Alas, I can tell you with certainty, that Groundhog Day had the potential to yield a much more worthwhile and consequential score, having heard one that was in progress years ago, by two extremely gifted professional writers whose then-active quest for the rights  was dashed in the wake of Stephen Sondheim publicly expressing an interest in the property, which he would later drop, stating that anything he might do would only gild the lily of the film he considered “perfect as it is” (I hasten to add, this is a perfectly legitimate sensation; if you don’t feel you can enhance, elevate and/or better the source material, you have no business musicalizing it)… but such a score also would have yielded a much different show then the one under consideration here.
But the one under consideration is the one you can see, and thus the one that must be appraised.  And all things considered, Groundhog Day is one of those freak-of-nature shows whose fusion of creative alchemy  bubbles and roils to cook up a stew that is far more satisfying than it has any right to be.

David Spencer is an award-winning composer-lyricist, lyricist-librettist, author and musical theatre teacher. He has written music and lyrics for the Richard Rodgers Development Award-winning musical The Fabulist, which also contributed to his winning a Kleban lyrics award and several Gilman & Gonzalez-Falla Theatre Foundation grants. He is also lyricist-librettist for two musicals with composer Alan Menken: Weird Romance (WPA 1992, York 2004) and The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, which had its sold out, extended world premiere in Montreal in Summer 2015; cast album release soon. He made his professional debut in 1984 with the English Adaptation of La Bohéme at the Public Theatre; and he has since written music and lyrics for Theatreworks/USA’s all-new, award-winning Young Audience versions of The Phantom of the Opera (1996) and Les Misérables (1999) (book and direction for both by Rob Barron). Currently he is writing book, music and lyrics for a musical based on the iconic Russian novel The Golden Calf. Spencer’s published books are the Alien Nation novel Passing Fancy (Pocket, 1994), The Musical Theatre Writer’s Survival Guide (Heinemann, 2005, a regularly reprinted industry standard) and the script of Weird Romance (Samuel French, 1993). He is on faculty and teaches at the BMI-Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop and has taught at HB Studio, the Workshop Studio Theater and Goldsmith’s College in London. His primary professional affiliations are BMI, The Dramatists Guild and The International Association of Media Tie-in Writers.


Ken Fallin’s Broadway: A Dolls House: Arian Moayed and Jessica Chastain



I went with T2C’s editor to A Dolls House, which inspired this caricature. You can read Suzanna’s review of the show here.

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T2C Sends Our Prayers to Andrew Lloyd Webber and Lea Michele



Saturday, March 25, 2023

 A Statement From Andrew Lloyd Webber

 I am shattered to have to announce that my beloved elder son Nick died a few hours ago in Basingstoke Hospital. His whole family is gathered together and we are all totally bereft. 

 Thank you for all your thoughts during this difficult time.

The 75-year-old Oscar-winning composer son Nicholas followed in his father’s footsteps and was a successful composer in his own right, having written Fat Friends The Musical. He was married to musician Polly Wiltshire, who appeared on the soundtrack of his father’s 2019 movie Cats.

During his career, Nicholas also scored music for an adaption of The Little Prince as well as composing numerous TV and film scores, including for the BBC1 drama Loves, Lies, and Records.

Nicholas previously spoke about making his own way in the theatre world away from his famous family name in a 2011 unearthed interview.

He said he wanted to be ‘judged on his own merits’ so dropped his surname when working to see what the reaction would be.

Our hearts and prayers go out to his family.

Also on Saturday Lea Michele updated her fans on the status of her two-year-old’s health via her Instagram  after he was hospitalized earlier this week.  Her son Ever was in the hospital, but is now out due to a ‘scary health issue. She posted a picture backstage in her dressing room ahead of her Broadway performance in Funny Girl. Lea had been out to focus on her family.

“I just wanted to say thank you to everyone for just so much love and support this week. I really really appreciated it”.

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Parade: A Musical That Asks Us Do We Have The Eyes And Ears To See.



Micaela Diamond and Ben Platt Photo by Joan Marcus

I have always loved Jason Robert Brown’s score for Parade. “You Don’t Know This Man,” “This Is Not Over Yet” and the wonderfully romantic “All the Wasted Time” are just the tip of the iceberg for music that stirs your soul and tells a tale of heartbreak. There is a reason this score won the Tony Award in 1999.

Ben Platt Photo By Joan Marcus

The musical now playing on Broadway dramatizes the 1913 trial of Jewish factory manager Leo Frank (Ben Platt), who was accused and convicted of raping and murdering a thirteen-year-old Mary Phagan (Erin Rose Doyle). The trial was sensationalized by the media, newspaper reporter Britt Craig (Jay Armstrong Johnson) and Tom Watson (Manoel Feliciano), an extremist right-wing newspaper aroused antisemitic tensions in Atlanta and the U.S. state of Georgia. When Frank’s death sentence is commuted to life in prison thanks to his wife Lucille (Micaela Diamond), Leo was transferred to a prison in Milledgeville, Georgia, where a lynching party seized and kidnapped him. Frank was taken to Phagan’s hometown of Marietta, Georgia, and he was hanged from an oak tree. 

Erin Rose Doyle, Photo by Joan Marcus

The telling of this horrid true tale begins with the lush ode to the South in “The Old Red Hills of Home.” Leo has just moved from Brooklyn to in Marietta, where his wife is from and he has been given the job as as a manager at the National Pencil Co. He feels out of place as he sings “I thought that Jews were Jews, but I was wrong!” On Confederate Memorial Day as Lucille plans a picnic, Leo goes to work. In the meantime Mary goes to collect her pay from the pencil factory. The next day Leo is arrested on suspicion of killing Mary, whose body is found in the building. The police also suspect Newt Lee (Eddie Cooper), the African-American night watchman who discovered the body, but he inadvertently directs Starnes’ suspicion to Leo.

Across town, reporter Britt Craig see this story as (“Big News”). Mary’s suitor Frankie Epps (Jake Pederson), swears revenge on Mary’s killer, as does the reporter Watson. Governor John Slaton (Sean Allan Krill) pressures the local prosecutor Hugh Dorsey (the terrific smarmy Paul Alexander Nolan) to get to the bottom of the whole affair. Dorsey, an ambitious politician sees Leo as he ticket to being the Governor and though there are other suspects, he willfully ignores them and goes after Leo.

Sophia Manicone, Emily Rose DeMartino, Ashlyn Maddox Photo By Joan Marcus

The trial of Leo Frank is presided over by Judge Roan (Howard McMillan). A series of witnesses, give trumped up evidence which was clearly is fed to them by Dorsey. Frankie testifies, falsely, that Mary said Leo “looks at her funny.” Her three teenage co-workers, Lola, Essie and Monteen (Sophia Manicone, Emily Rose DeMartino, Ashlyn Maddox), collaborate hauntingly as they harmonize their testimony  (“The Factory Girls”). In a fantasy sequence, Leo becomes the lecherous seducer (“Come Up to My Office”). Testimony is heard from Mary’s mother (Kelli Barrett ) (“My Child Will Forgive Me”) and Minnie McKnight (Danielle Lee Greaves)before the prosecution’s star witness, Jim Conley (Alex Joseph Grayson ), takes the stand. He claims that he witnessed the murder and helped Leo conceal the crime (“That’s What He Said”). Leo is given the opportunity to deliver a statement (“It’s Hard to Speak My Heart”), but it is not enough. He is found guilty and sentenced to hang. The crowd breaks out into a jubilant circus.

Alex Joseph Grayson Photo by Joan Marcus

Act 1, is not as strong as it should have been. I have attended three different incarnations, the last being with Jeremy Jordan as Leo and Joshua Henry as Jim in 2015. Part of the problem is Michael Arden’s direction. Instead of allowing his performers to act, he has them pantomime, as the solo goes forth. “Come Up to My Office” was not as haunting as in past productions. The same can be said of “That’s What He Said”. Who’s stands out in the first act is Jake Pederson as Frankie and Charlie Webb as the Young Soldier who sings “The Old Red Hills of Home.”

Micaela Diamond and Ben Platt Photo by Joan Marcus

In Act 2, Lucille finds Governor Slaton at a party (the hypnotic “Pretty Music” sung wonderfully by Krill) and advocates for Leo. Watson approaches Dorsey and tells him he will support his bid for governor, as Judge Roan also offers his support. The governor agrees to re-open the case, as Leo and Lucille find hope. Slaton realizes what we all knew that the witnesses were coerced and lied and that Dorsey is at the helm. He agrees to commute Leo’s sentence to life in prison in Milledgeville, Georgia, which ends his political career. The citizens of Marietta, led by Dorsey and Watson, are enraged and riot. Leo is transferred to a prison work-farm. Lucille visits, and he realizes his deep love for his wife and how much he has underestimated her (“All the Wasted Time”). With hope in full blaze Lucille leaves as a party masked men kidnap Leo and take him to Marietta. They demand he confess and hang him from an oak tree.

Paul Alexander Nolan, Howard McMillan Photo By Joan Marcus

In Act Two Parade comes together with heart and soul. Diamond, who shines brightly through out the piece is radiant, and her duets with Platt are romantic and devastating. Platt comes into his own and his huge following is thrilled to be seeing him live. Alex Joseph Grayson’s also nails his Second Act songs.

Dane Laffrey’s set works well with the lighting by Heather Gilbert.

Frank’s case was reopened in 2019 and is still ongoing.

Parade has multiple messages and the question is will audiences absorb it. I am so glad this show is on Broadway, making us think and see. This is a must see.

Parade: Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, 242 W 45th Street.

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