This post contains spoilers for Groundhog Day, both the musical and the film.
Anyone who is a Matilda The Musical fan has probably been watching Tim Minchin (comedian and composer) very closely in the past few years to see what his next project would be. When I heard that he was adapting the film Groundhog Day for the stage, I was perplexed at first (as I tend to be with most movie adaptations), but as I listened to the cast recording , I realized that this story perfectly reflects Minchin’s musical style: comedic, but with an underlying sense of darkness.
For those of you who don’t know the story, Groundhog Day tells the story of Phil Connors, a bitter reporter who travels to small town Punxsutawnee, PA for the Groundhog Day celebrations and for an unexplained reason is forced to relive the same day over and over again. This is the movie that began the familiar trope of the repeating day, which tvtropes.org calls the “‘Groundhog Day’ Loop.” This kind of plot happens a lot in episodic TV shows (think the “International Dateline” episode of Disney Channel’s The Suite Life On Deck).
So clearly, repetition is a huge theme in this story–which, in terms of music, can either fail if overdone or succeed if explored in an interesting way. Repetition is an important and often necessary tool in music, but it’s so easy to take it a step too far. This is what I was looking out for during my first listen of the cast album, and I think Minchin did a great job of handling the repetitive aspect of the score. Andy Karl’s performance as Phil also contributed to the sense of movement the score brings despite the backdrop of a single day. You can hear the evolution of his character in his voice, from the bitterness to the despair to the hope for a happy ending.
In terms of songs, the obvious hit is the (I’m assuming) 11 o’clock number of “If I Had My Time Again,” which contradicts the usual claim that “if I could do it again, I would do it the same.” It’s a rock ballad led by Rita (Phil’s love interest) in which she and the townspeople reflect on their regrets in life and what they would change if they could. The song “Stuck,” in which Phil is seen by a procession of unhelpful health “professionals”, is a reflection of Minchin’s satirical voice, specifically when he talks about pseudoscience (see: Tim Minchin’s Storm: The Animated Movie).
My least favourite moment of the score is the Act 1 finale, titled “One Day.” Though Minchin attempts to use his witty voice to show the complexities and contradictions of female desire (as Rita sees it), it deteriorates into a hackneyed 6/4 ballad about how she fears no man may fulfill all her expectations (spoiler: Phil can). She says: “One day, some day/my prince will come/but it doesn’t seem likely,” all of which we as musical theatre enthusiasts have heard a multitude of times before. We don’t need another female character who claims she’s done with men only to fall in love at the end.
Despite the insipid love story subplot, the album is pretty solid, and you get a good idea of Tim Minchin’s sense of humour and jazzy sound. Since I haven’t seen the show, it’s difficult for me to evaluate the plot and its adaptation from the movie, but I like most of the changes that were made, and it also seems to create more of an arc for Phil’s character than it did in the movie, where his change of heart feels a bit contrived. All in all, it’s a good listen, and I recommend it for people who are fans of the movie or of Minchin’s other work.