GROUNDHOG DAY’S DAY By Peter Filichia
The decision wasn’t hard to make last Friday.
Each morning means a search through my original cast album collection to find the one I most want to hear. My choosing one from the thousands-or-so that I have in my collection turns out to be a daily time-consuming struggle.
Not this past Feb. 2nd, though. What’s more, there’ll be no contest for all the Feb. 2nds to come.
My perfect choice was, of course, Groundhog Day. If I couldn’t be in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, where everyone is celebrating its rodentia scuiridae as “the gifted sniffer of future mornings,” then my giving Tim Minchin’s score a spin would be an appropriate substitute.
Granted, for those of us who like our lyrics to involve perfect rhymes and correct stresses on syllables, Groundhog Day is a challenge. Of the forty-five full columns of lyrics in the CD booklet, thirty-eight have at least one imperfect rhyme or a misaccented syl-LA-ble.
Funny; one that reads as if it is indeed an imperfect rhyme actually is a perfect one. A Scientologist sings “In my medicine cupboard, there’s a bunch of L. Ron Hubbard.” Remember, “cupboard” is pronounced “cubbard.”
The consolation is that Minchin’s lyrics are full of marvelous images and perceptions. Some he set to pop rock music that’s right for city folk Phil Connors and Rita Hanson; the others for Punxsutawney’s people are equally correct countrified melodies.
Danny Rubin’s original story (which he then co-wrote as an acclaimed screenplay before he penned this libretto) pits small town optimism vs. big city pessimism. And in musical comedy, where we’ve learned the sun’ll come out tomorrow, is there any doubt that optimism will win? In fact, Minchin even has the Punxsutawney elders virtually quote that Annie anthem in a song that’s titled “There Will Be Sun.”
Phil, a Pittsburgh weatherman, views Punxsutawney as the pits. He mocks it with an eight-letter profanity that was recently in the news thanks to our president’s allegedly using it when describing some foreign countries.
“One bar, one store, one clock, one diner, one bank, one cop” Phil complains, blissfully unaware that he’ll be seeing them day after day after day after day. For Feb. 2nd will repeat on him, a situation that he’ll welcome as warmly as the times when food repeats on him. This is especially galling to a weatherman whose occupational non-hazard is “always staying a day ahead.”
Rita, Phil’s producer, has a different take on Punxsutawney. She appreciates that here “the people are kind and the bartender’s kind” before adding “of hot.”
That won’t be the only instance of Minchin’s skill at finding two different takes on words. He notes that the town is full of Forgotten Men who find ways to spend (read: waste) time: “shoot some cans” (apparently with guns) and “shoot the breeze.”
This occurs in “Nobody Cares,” a song that’s meant to be funny – and is – but also has a sad underbelly of truth: Punxsutawney’s workadays measure their lives in beer cans. We feel for them as they express their fervent desire for respect, especially because they know deep in their hearts that it’ll be as impossible to get as all six numbers being the same ones on their Lotto ticket.
Snow White might well have believed “Someday My Prince Will Come,” but the best Rita can hope for is that “One Day” — as her soliloquy is called – “my prince may come.” She had to come to terms with lowered expectations at an early age, thanks to “plastic princesses” – i.e. Barbies — with “huge boobs” that established one unachievable standard and “no pubes” which suggested that sex was verboten.
What’s the solution? Marry a rich and powerful man? Rita saw one of her best friends do just that and he eventually dumped her for a younger woman. Now the divorcée has “an empty swimming pool which she fills with regret.”
Minchin includes a nice in-joke when Phil reveals that after he and a one-night stand enjoyed their carnal knowledge, they turned on the TV and watched Ghostbusters II. That 1989 film starred Bill Murray, who was, of course, the original Phil Collins in the original 1993 Groundhog Day film.
In his musical Matilda, Minchin started off the second act with a minor character singing a song that wasn’t germane to the plot. He did it in Groundhog Day, too, so perhaps it’ll be a Minchin device and trademark as he continues to write musicals.
Here it’s Nancy, a Punxsutawney woman who isn’t getting any younger. She feels as if she’s “Playing Nancy,” as the song is called, and not herself. But “once you’re known for low-cut tops, it’s hard to stop.”
See what I mean about imperfect rhymes? The consolation is again Minchin’s deft way with words (“I’m pretty good at being pretty”) and his incisive look at human nature (“There are worse roles you can play”).
At the end of the show Phil finds some resolve in himself that he never before knew he’d had: “Never give up hope; never let yourself be defeated,” he proclaims. In “If I Had My Time Again,” he gives a very non-Paul Anka/Frank Sinatra view of matters: “Regrets? I’d not even have a few.”
I regret, though, that Groundhog Day only managed six months on Broadway – especially after it was so acclaimed in London where it won the Olivier Award – their Tony – as Best Musical. The film on which it’s based routinely shows up on the lists of Best Movies of All Time, so I would have thought enough people would have been intrigued by a musical version to keep its doors open.
Oh, well. There’ll undoubtedly be many productions of Groundhog Day as time goes on. Here’s betting the regional premiere will take place at The Punxsutawney Theatre Arts Guild (and, yes, there is such an organization). In the meantime, there is that original cast album which we can play any day of the year.
Peter Filichia also writes a column each Monday at www.broadwayselect.com and each Friday at www.mtishows.com. His book The Great Parade: Broadway’s Astonishing, Never-To-Be Forgotten 1963-1964 Season is now available at www.amazon.com.