CD Review: GROUNDHOG DAY (Original Broadway Cast on Broadway Records)

by Frank Arthur on May 22, 2017

in CD-DVD,Theater-New York

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DOES GROUNDHOG DAY BEAR REPEATING?

The Masterworks Broadway and Broadway Records CD of the musical adaptation of Groundhog Day may be a bit tough for some to hear over and over and over and over. Danny Rubin adapted his iconic screenplay about newscaster Phil, and how he must relive Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney until he learns to care about other people. As with Phil (Andy Karl, not as distinctive as the ensemble members), who has a greater appreciation for life after being cursed to live the same day in perpetuity, there’s something new to pick up on repeat hearings of this well-produced cast album. But is that enough? For those who have cut their teeth listening to cast albums rich in originality and standalone songs, probably not. For millennials who have come-of-age with style over songs, this could be diverting.

The issue here is that Phil’s escapades in Punxsutawney are similar to a nonsensical Lewis Carroll novel, but it’s not so brillig for the listener as composer Tim Minchin’s pop-like music isn’t as unique and idiosyncratic as the lead character; and without that distinction, much of the score is monotonous. This is necessary for the story, no doubt, but the listener doesn’t get the theatrical trickery that has made the show a hit, so we get a form of Broadway minimalism in the guise of pop. However, Minchin, as he did with Matilda, The Musical, offers witty lyrics that consistently surprise, making his eccentric and mischievous little songs far more bearable. In “One Day,” Phil’s love interest Rita (Barrett Doss) laments about her love life, exemplified by “another sexually ineffectual, self-obsessing metrosexual, pseudo-intellectual, getting drunk and existential, every time the Steelers lose a game” (some may not be so forgiving of Minchin’s many false rhymes: “creases” with “Jesus”—really?).

And there’s fun to be had with “Nobody Cares” but it has a derivative country western feel (in Pennsylvania?) which has a dance break that sounds like a thumping theme park attraction (there’s a lot of throbbing brass and rocking rhythm throughout that goes nowhere; again, you’ll probably find yourself missing those visuals.). The second act gets better (Christopher Nightingale’s jazzy orchestrations in “Philanthropy” are awesome), but it’s getting to the point where Groundhog Day as a listening experience is just like so many Broadway musicals these days—one big tinge: ballad-tinged, rock-tinged, C&W-tinged, spoof-tinged, and pop-tinged. This is one that apparently really needs to be seen to be appreciated.

photos of the Broadway production by Joan Marcus

Groundhog Day
Original Broadway Cast Recording
Masterworks Broadway and Broadway Records
1 disc | 19 tracks | 76:59
available on CD May 12, 2017
to purchase, visit Broadway Records

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