‘Groundhog Day the Musical’ rants more than enchants

Stage show lacks sweet tone of filmic source material

There’s a lot going on in “Groundhog Day the Musical” – perhaps too much.

The show, in its Bay Area premiere presented by San Francisco Playhouse, has the same premise as the beloved 1993 comic fantasy with Bill Murray as the mean TV weatherman who changes his tune after reliving Feb. 2 over and over in the Pennsylvania town that celebrates groundhog Punxsutawney Phil’s ability to predict an early spring.

But this show lacks the charm of the movie, a philosophical delight and that unfolded with subtle sweetness and humor as arrogant newsman Phil Connors, stuck in the same day, loses his hubris and finds his heart.

Interestingly, and not obviously, Danny Rubin, who co-wrote the film’s screenplay, also wrote this musical’s book. He and composer Tim Minchin aren’t as charitable to the characters here: Newsman Phil’s evolution from brashness and harshness to empathetic comes abruptly, and the townspeople are painted as dolts. Rita, Phil’s love interest, is likable enough, but doesn’t have much to do.

The plot packs in a lot. Phil goes crazy a couple of times (in one graphic, belabored song “Stuck” he sings about treatments from enemas to tranquilizers to essential oils); later, as he and a couple of guys get drunk in bar in the country-tinged tune “Nobody Cares,” they go on a joy ride and are chased by cops.

In “Philandering,” he inexplicably cavorts with the town’s skimpily clad women, and in Act 2’s “Hope,” there’s a suicide attempt.

Solo ballads by two supporting characters, Nancy, an attractive woman who laments that status in life, and Ned Ryerson (the unforgettable annoying insurance salesman from the movie) don’t add the aimed-for depth.

Plot complexities and tone issues aside, the Playhouse production, directed by Susi Damilano, offers a cast of energetic actors. Company veteran Ryan Drummond (“La Cage Aux Folles,” “Company,” “City of Angels”) fills the stage as Phil, in a decidedly non-Bill Murray like performance; Rinabeth Apostol registers as Rita; and Sophia Introna and Dean Linnard as Nancy and Ned, respectively, vocalize with verve.

The town folk sing and dance up a storm to choreography by Nicole Helfer; and Dave Dobrusky on keyboards heads up a small but mighty band of alternating players on drums, guitar, bass and keys.

As is typical of S.F. Playhouse, production values are high: The rotating set by Edward T. Morris, and projections by Teddy Hulsker are a clever physical depiction of the endless nature of Phil’s predicament.

Local radio fans may want to listen closely to the broadcast that wakes Phil up as he repeats each day: It’s the voices of Sarah and Vinnie from Alice 97.3.

REVIEW

Groundhog Day the Musical

Presented by San Francisco Playhouse

Where: 450 Post St., second floor, S.F.

When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes Jan. 18

Tickets: $35 to $125

Contact: (415) 677-9596, www.sfplayhouse.org

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