Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.

Matthew Warchus

Groundhog Day – The Musical – Stuck in Rewind


The 1993 film Groundhog Day is something of a cult classic. When masterfully wry Bill Murray (as weatherman Phil Connors) is forced to relive the ersatz holiday (until he gets a heart and gets it right) in mawkishly chipper Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, audiences reveled in every quip and Machiavellian move.

The good news is that Andy Karl is up to the task in this, a musical version. Not since 2015’s On the Twentieth Century has Karl had the opportunity to showcase his comic chops as well as leading man vocals. Despite a knee injury that briefly sidelined the actor, he adroitly employs physical humor as well as superb timing. At one point this evening, the actor lays his thoroughly braced leg across a counter stool attempting to seduce the character’s associate producer Rita Hanson (the capable, but undistinguished Barrett Doss).   Onstage virtually throughout, Karl holds the piece together with unflagging charisma.

Groundhog Day August Wilson Theatre

The Company- Andy Karl, center

Also in Column A, book (and earlier screenplay) writer Danny Rubin maintains his hero’s dark disposition and wit, Rita’s resistance (somewhat updated with a mourned loss of sweetness), and the loopy friendliness of townspeople.

The look of this production under Rob Howell’s stewardship, is often inspired. “It just better be a big van,” Connors snaps when told he won’t be traveling south by limousine. We next see an irresistible, toy-sized conveyance spot-lit on the empty stage as it makes its way through night fog. A credible truck frame is literally built around Connors and two locals out on a bender. Chased by police in their own faux car-fronts replete with flashing lights, three vehicles shrink to 16” versions racing through a town of streets with seemingly floating houses.

The six-foot plus groundhog never fails to amuse. A revolving stage is used with great success as is the rotating set piece revealing Connor’s bed and breakfast bedroom. (Caveats: local women with whom the weatherman briefly frolics wear out of place, glow-in-the-dark lingerie and two townspeople wear obvious fat suits .)

Groundhog Day August Wilson Theatre

Andy Karl

Video by Andrzej Goulding, impressionistic Lighting Design by Hugh Vanstone, and nifty illusions by Paul Kieve add to delight.

Now for the disappointing and unfortunately prevailing Column B. Songwriter Tim Minchin, who in my opinion did a brilliant job with Matilda, offers mostly tuneless numbers with prose that unsuccessfully fights to fit music. Though lyrics can be extremely clever, they don’t sing. Several rock n’roll numbers arrive cacophonous and as if in the wrong show. (Generic choreography by Peter Darling doesn’t help.)

Both ostensibly misjudged town hottie Nancy (Rebecca Faulenberry) and Phil’s former schoolmate Ned (John Sanders), minor characters, are given entirely superfluous numbers. The visit to a doctor in the film is blown out of proportion into a long, forced number featuring attempts by practitioners from faith healers to psychologists. A  carnival ride is added without logic or context.

Groundhog Day August Wilson Theatre

Barrett Doss, Andy Karl

Some of the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of Director Michael Warchus whose skill and imagination with Matilda plus a long list of other material, promised way better. To give him his due, Warchus deftly conveys repetition and Phil’s radically changing activity/attitude over the passing of days – though a parentheses of successive suicide attempts by company members dressed as Phil seems excessive as we’ve already seen the hero himself try and fail.

The only person with developed personality traits, however, is Connors. Brief character turns feel walked-through, eschewing opportunities for bright cameos. Ned isn’t geeky enough, the landlady lacks cliché coziness. Rita’s tough cookie persona is one dimensional. Exceptions: Gus (Andrew Call) and Ralph (Raymond J. Lee) showcase appealing quirk in a bar number with Phil and Josh Lamon flickers in and out with some brio.

Judging by audible reaction, not all audience members are familiar with the story which remains appealing, but the work is not up to its creators.

Photos by Joan Marcus
Opening: Andy Karl

Groundhog Day-The Musical
Book by Danny Rubin
Music & Lyrics by Tim Minchin
Directed by Matthew Warchus
August Wilson Theatre
245 West 52 Street

LGBT Movies for Harvey Milk Day


May 22nd is Harvey Milk Day an occasion celebrated by thousands of members of the Equality Movement around the world on Harvey’s birthday. In the spirit of the occasion consider holding a movie night with some of the following films.

Gay USA (1978) Directed by Arthur Bressan Jr. who was mostly known for his gay porn but who also wrote and directed Buddies the first feature film about the AIDS epidemic, Gay USA focused on the burgeoning gay rights movement of the 70’s just at the time it faced its first organized backlash courtesy of Anita Bryant and her campaign to repeal anti-discrimination policies in Dade County.

Milk  (2008) This incredible biopic directed by Gus Van Sant (My Own Private Idaho, Good Will Hunting) detailing the last years of Harvey’s life including his move to San Francisco, his rise as a community activist and politician, and his untimely death by assassination is quite simply a masterpiece. Sean Penn in the titular role deservedly got most of the attention for his extraordinary performance but he was bolstered by a stellar supporting crew including James Franco as Milk’s longtime lover Scott, Allison Pill as Harvey Milk’s campaign manager Anne Kronenberg, and a chilling turn by Josh Brolin as murderer Dan White. It won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor for Sean Penn as well as being nominated for six more Oscars.

Stonewall Uprising (2010)  This excellent documentary (not to be confused with the widely panned 2015 film Stonewall)  was directed by married filmmakers Kate Davis and David Heilobroner, tells the story of the massive police raid of Stonewall in June 1969, where to the cops surprise the patrons fought back, thus kicking off the gay rights movement as we know it.  The movie features eyewitness accounts of the incident including NYPD deputy inspector Seymour Pine and activist Martha Shelley, as well as archived film of the subsequent riots. It originally aired on PBS.

How to Survive a Plague (2012)  This directorial debut by journalist David France chronicles the early years of the AIDS epidemic and the efforts of the activist founders of ACT UP and TAG to lobby the government for effective medical research and treatment. It features interviews with Larry Kramer, Garance Franke-Ruta, Spencer Cox and more. It was awarded Best Documentary by the Gotham Independent Film Awards and the Boston Society of Film Critics, as well as a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Documentary and a Peabody.

Pride (2014)  Directed by Matthew Warchus (Simpatico) Pride, tells the true story of how in the summer of 1984, gay rights activists partnered with miners during their lengthy strike reasoning after all that they were both victims under the Thatcher administration.  Pride is a remarkably sly and witty look at issues of intersectionality that dominate the Left to this day. The all star cast features, Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, Dominic West, Andrew Scott, and more.  The sequence where Dominic West discos on top of tables alone justifies Pride which is both hysterically funny and inspiring at the same time.

To learn more go to the website for about Harvey Milk Day. 

Top photo:  A bust of slain San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected public official in the U.S., is posted outside his former legislative chamber in San Francisco. Bigstock photo.