Theater Review: GROUNDHOG DAY: THE MUSICAL (Paramount Theatre in Aurora, Chicagoland)

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by Dan Zeff on February 10, 2022

in Theater-Chicago

GROUNDHOG DAY DOES NOT BEAR REPEATING

The Paramount Theatre has a well deserved reputation for presenting classy productions of musicals that approach Broadway caliber. That certainly can be said about the Paramount’s revival of Groundhog Day: The Musical. Unfortunately, a classy production is all the compliment that can be offered a tiresome show that runs 2½ hours but seems interminably longer.

Groundhog Day: The Musical started as a motion picture in 1993 and quickly became a hit comedy, largely due to the Bill Murray’s delightful performance. As frequently happens in show business, the popularity of a film leads to a musical comedy adaptation, so in due course Groundhog Day opened on Broadway in 2017. The adaptation did not get much commercial love and folded in a few months. Paramount artistic director Jim Corti obviously saw much potential in bringing the vehicle to his theater. But in spite of.creative staging and a large (29 performers) and talented cast, the results are dispiriting.

The musical follows the storyline of the movie. An obnoxious television weather man named Phil Connors is visiting the small Pennsylvania town of Punxsutawney to cover the annual February 2 ritual of gathering to see if a local groundhog emerges from its hole to check out the climate. If the animal sees its shadow, the area will be afflicted with six more weeks of winter. The event has become something of a folk ritual in America, gathering national attention, at least for a day before the critter returns to its underground home for anonymous 12 months.

The hook of the story is Phil discovering that he is waking up each day returning to February 2. There is no clue as to who or what is responsible for trapping Phil in his time warp. It just happens, and the first act soaks up endless amounts of time on Phil’s daily return to February 2.

The opening act is light fare as Phil tries to figure out why he is locked into a single day. The second act turns dark as Phil ricochets from mood to mood attempting to adjust to his Groundhog Day phenomenon. At first he loves how he is not accountable for his actions. No matter what he does on February 2 his actions are wiped clean when he starts over the next day (or the same day repeated). Eventually Phil mournfully comes to the awareness that his life is no longer any fun as a freebooter and he turns a new page, trying to instill some sense of worth into his parched existence. The narrative thus takes on a whiff of “A Christmas Carol” in its elevation of the central character from meany to benefactor, and to “Our Town” for its fiddling with time.

This extended account of the story suggests the show may be trying to explore significant issues, .but the story is just boring, the first act repetitious and the second act muddled. The final act can’t seem to locate a suitable closing and more than once I thought the action was mercifully ending, only to watch the story lurch forward, leaving the audience captive in a show that, like Phil’s Groundhog Day, will never end.

Alex Syiek does all he can to bring Phil Connors to life. Syiek can sing and act well and the amount of stage time his character logs reflects his stamina. To his credit, and indeed to the credit of the entire ensemble, Syiek seems to have bought into the show heart and soul. His character is well matched with Phoebe Gonzalez’s fetching performance as Phil’s TV producer, a no-nonsense lady with little tolerance for Phil’s abrasive cynicism. But it gives nothing away to note that the two become a romantic twosome by the final blackout. The stars receive impeccable support from the massive supporting cast who play a selection of Punxsutawney rubes like they too have really embraced into their characters.

The clear winner in the production is the group of visual designers who recreate the charming snowy ambience of the small town locale. So a shout out goes to Courtney O’Neill (set design), Jordan Ross (costume design), Greg Hofmann (lighting design), Adam Rosenthal (sound design), and especially Mike Tutaj for his delightful projections. Megan E. Farley does well with the choreography, though this isn’t a dancing show. Kory Danielson conducts the fine orchestra.

Jim Corti, as usual, directs with style and creativity, but even this master can’t save Groundhog Day. What a shame that so much talent and commitment have been undercut by a show that just doesn’t work.

photos by Liz Lauren

Groundhog Day: The Musical
Paramount Theatre, 23 East Galena Boulevard in Aurora
Wed @ 1:30 & 7:30; Thurs at 7; Fri at 8; Sat at 3 & 8; Sun at 1 & 5
ends on March 13, 2022
for tickets ($36 to $74), call 630 896 6666 or visit Paramount

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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