“Groundhog Day: The Musical” at SF Playhouse

“Groundhog Day”  at SF Playhouse

Carol Benet

The holiday season brings works with the Scrooge theme to the stage. In the Bay Area there are many Scrooge plays and the SF Symphony’ plays the background toe Frank Capra’s masterpiece film “It’s a Wonderful Life” on December 3 and 6.  SF Playhouse joins in with the same Christmas message that man or woman, no matter how desperate, selfish and negative they be, can always redeem themselves into a hopeful, compassionate and empathetic beings.

Such is the theme SF Playhouse’s “Groundhog Day: a The Musical” that tells the story of Phil Connors (Ryan Drummond), a T.V. weatherman who goes to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to cover Groundhog Day, February 2.  There is the annual celebration of the coming of spring —sooner or later.  The myth says that if the groundhog, just out of hibernation, sees his shadow, there will be 6 more weeks of winter before spring arrives. 

The little town is alive with celebration:  parades, fireworks, speeches and no matter what is the prognosis, they accept it with merriment.  Then there is sourpuss egotist Connors who every year is put into a time warp where he goes through exactly the same motions:  wakes up in a tacky B and B, greets the same hostess and other guests, goes to the shoot with the cameraman and the associate director Rita (Rinabeth Apostol). Yearly this happens in exactly the same way and he is depressed. This is the myth of Sisyphus redux, where in that Greek tale, the hero pushes a huge bolder up the hill and once he arrives at the top, the bolder rolls back down again.

Phil is nasty, sarcastic and self-centered.  With distain he meets the simple but sincere people of the town.  With one, an old high school classmate Jenson (David Schiller) who is now an insurance salesman, Connors thinks how boring  all of them are in this mundane life.  How can they stand it, he sings.

As the play progresses, through the several repetitions of the same rituals, small things happen that shake him into joining humanity.  While looking at the wallet pictures of Jenson’s family he finds out the wife has “passed” and who, at first, was for Connors a complete bore turns into a sympathetic human being.  One of the lively town boosters Nancy (Sophia Introna) sings about her life always being used as a sex object.  Little by little Connors begins to develop an empathy for them. And at the end, after several very funny scenes where he dares to be a human being,  he falls in love with Rita with whom he has had a troubled and tense work relationship.  

“Groundhog Day:  The Musical” was adapted for the stage from the Bill Murry film.  It premiered in London where it won an Oliver Award and then went to Broadway where it was nominated for 7 Tony Awards.  The original book was written by Danny Rubin and the music and lyrics were added for the play by Tim Minchin.  Where in the film Murry might have contributed the right cynicism and grabbiness, in the play Connors must sing and dance as well as portray this character and Drummond provides these talents.

Susi Damilano’s (co-founder of SF Playhouse) direction is perfect.  She is so very good at comedy and this play requires spot-on timing with all the post-modern repetitions and gags.  Dave Dobrusky’s musical direction with the behind-stage band is, as always, wonderful.  

Edward T. Morris’ set with Teddy Hulkser’s projections in the background is intricate with the moving stage  that brings the repeated sets as well as the singers and dancers into position.  Abra Berman’s costumes showing how bitter cold it can get on Groundhog Day are fitting for the inhabitants of this small town.  Lighting by York Kennedy is perfect.  But Teddy Hulsker’s sound design has a problem in the large, wide stage where the words of the ensembles become muddled due to the microphones the singers must wear.  Lyrics mix together and bounce from here to there and ißt’s a shame to have to miss some of the clever lyrics.

“Groundhog Day”  at SF Playhouse runs through January 18 2020.  sfplayhouse.org or 415 677 9596.

About the Author

Carol BenetCarol Benet received her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of California, Berkeley, where she won an Outstanding Teaching Award. She also received a B.A. in English and an M.A. in French Language and Literature from the University of Michigan. Her teaching assignments have been at UC Berkeley, UC Berkeley Extension, Dominican University and Washington State University. Currently she holds literature discussion groups in Marin County and San Francisco and is a critic of the arts for The Ark Newspaper and a contributor to ARTSSF.com and ForAllEvents.com.View all posts by Carol Benet →