There's something funny — and maybe even profound — about a musical comedy based on a movie based on repeat performances, which is the story of Phil Connors, a snarky, obnoxious, "dickish" weatherman who gets stuck in an endless Feb. 2 when he goes to Punxsutawney, Pa., to cover Groundhog Day. And Groundhog Day: The Musical just about defines what it must be like to be in a hit show, singing the same songs, making the same gestures, smiling the same smiles eight times a week.
Catching up with the show now, in August, it looks as fresh and frisky as it must have in March when it opened on Broadway; a sign hanging from the marquee quotes a critic: "A star is born. Is born. Is born." That star is Andy Karl, who plays Phil with a charming degree of brash narcissism and relatable desperation.
His co-star is born is born is born, too; Barrett Doss as Phil's assistant producer is a lovely, silvery-voiced assistant producer; that their romance will end happily is a given (this is musical comedy, after all) once Phil learns his existential lessons about life and kindness.
This "smallest of small towns" is full of hokey folks, and there is a moment when the balance between smug big-city and cloying small-town threatens to tip the wrong way. But the show recovers, despite the incoherent philosophizing of the second act and the too-often but necessary reprisals of songs and production numbers.
With a book by Danny Rubin and music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, directed by Matthew Warchus with high energy and speed, much of the show's charm also depends on the sets, featuring adorable tiny car chases, adorable big car chases, and a generally jolly exuberance about what stagecraft can do.
Like so many musicals that flirt with Big Ideas (despair, freedom, suicide, deadening routine, mortality), Groundhog Day knows about itself what Phil knows about himself: the depths of shallowness. Musical comedy may be the best prescription for cheering up whenever life feels like an eternal February 2nd.