Its plot may follow the tribulations of a man who seems to be doomed to live the same day over and over again, but the new musical of Groundhog Day feels anything but stuck. It’s an inventive and vibrant production that’s garnered seven Tony nominations, and four of its cast members — Andy Karl (Phil), Barrett Doss (Rita), Rebecca Faulkenberry (Nancy) and John Sanders (Ned) — stopped by the Billboard on Broadway podcast to discuss just how the show manages to live up to the 1993 Bill Murray movie’s exalted reputation.
As the cast reveal to Billboard, they weren’t immediately sold on the idea of transforming a movie as beloved as Groundhog Day into a musical. “I wasn’t convinced until I heard the music,” Faulkenberry says, but then “I connected to it right away. It’s wonderful for actors… all the music in this show is so actable and makes the characters really clear. You can really dig into the lyrics of this show.”
“I was not convinced it’d be a good idea,” says Karl. “I’ve done a lot of movie musicals, and it felt like, ‘Oh, here comes another one.’” But none of this team settle for the conventional. It’s a real work of art you’re watching every night, the deconstructed idea of what is Phil supposed to learn? It sends your mind into some deeper, darker places, and some funny places. It’s a great theatrical event.”
Composer and lyricist Tim Minchin’s work played a significant role in convincing the cast that the musical could work. Sanders had previously performed in Minchin’s Matilda on Broadway. “I heard rumblings of them doing Groundhog Day and I thought immediately, Tim Minchin is perfect for this, he has these existential weird overtones to his really playful fun lyrics that’ll fit just perfectly for this project.” Doss calls out the diversity of genre Minchin covers in his music. “I think it keeps the audience on their toes,” she says. “You kind of can’t settle into a pattern with these songs; they start in one place and end someplace completely different. It’s sort of relentlessly entertaining.”
Karl goes on to reveal how he contended with the expectations of Bill Murray fans in the audience: “I would never attempt to do what Bill Murray does — he’s got his own thing — but what he has that’s so wonderful is he can be such a jerk but have a wink in his eye, and I knew I had to find that in me.” Doss and Faulkenberry, on the other hand, touch on how Minchin and book writer (and original screenplay scribe) Danny Rubin wrote uniquely rich female characters they play.
Listen to this week’s Billboard on Broadway episode to hear more about Minchin’s challenging lyrics, Karl’s onstage costume-changing technique, and the original Groundhog Day cast member who’s stopped by the theater.