Tim Minchin’s first major musical Matilda was an immediate critical hit when it premiered in the UK in 2010. So how have the critics responded to his follow-up?
Groundhog Day is an adaptation of the 1993 Bill Murray movie of the same name, and opened at London’s Old Vic Theatre overnight. It features a score by Minchin, a book by Danny Rubin (who wrote the original film) and is directed by Matthew Warchus (who directed Matilda).
Dominic Cavendish, from the Independent gave the show five stars, labelling it an “instant classic”:
“Something extraordinary has happened at the Old Vic. A much-loved, ingeniously funny and clever Hollywood film has made a triumphant theatrical rebirth – in a show that looks, on first viewing, equal to, and perhaps better than, the movie.
“Director Matthew Warchus, choreographer Peter Darling and Tim Minchin, the Australian comedian turned musical maestro, enjoyed a runaway success with Matilda: the Musical. But their latest venture is in a different league: sophisticated, smart and more adult in theme.”
Guardian critic Michael Billington gave the show four stars, writing:
“The result is fantastically smart, clever and witty, but I have to say it left my heart untouched…
“Minchin’s songs breezily add to the satire on small-town life. At one point, as he finds himself undergoing humiliating hospital tests, Phil cries: “Who needs enemas with friends like this?” But the action, especially in the first half, is so fast and furious that the songs have little room to breathe. When things slow down, the numbers, with titles such as Hope and If I Had My Time Again, become amiably generic. It’s a score that serves the plot perfectly, but it’s not exactly one you ache to hear again.”
The New York Times‘ theatre critic Ben Brantley famously called Matilda “the most satisfying and subversive musical ever to come out of Britain”. He travelled to the UK to review Groundhog Day, and while he wasn’t quite as effusive, he still heaped praise onto the show.
“It is cool (as in hip) and warm (as in cuddly); it is spiky and sentimental. And it transforms its perceived weaknesses into strengths in ways that should disarm even veteran musical-haters.
“As he demonstrated in his score (with Dennis Kelly) for “Matilda,” Mr. Minchin is an inspired mixmaster of darkness and brightness. Even this show’s early numbers, extolling the homespun virtues of small-town life with harmonic “aahs” and folksy bluegrass chords, have a depressive undertow.”
“It was a huge challenge for composer Tim Minchin and director Matthew Warchus to follow the world-beating success of Matilda. Yet they have totally pulled it off. Their new musical Groundhog Day is a cast-iron triumph, both joyful and profound, incredibly funny and seriously moving.
“Minchin, whisper it quietly, might just be a genius. This is such an original and warm-hearted work. But it would be nothing without direction so seamless that even a full-blown tap number seems entirely fitting. And even less without the performances.”
“That premise could become quickly wearying, but writer Danny Rubin (who also scripted the original film), composer Tim Minchin and director Matthew Warchus set up the premise with daring bravado in a bracing opening half hour that repeats the same scene unashamedly, yet incrementally expands the hero’s understanding of his plight at the same time as the audience becomes aware of it.
“The show refuses to stand still. Choreographer Peter Darling’s typically electrifying and energising parade of movement keeps driving the population of townspeople around our increasingly hapless weatherman into repeated frames of action that subtly alter each time they come around.”