Andy Karl has gotten thisclose to a Tony Award before, but Monday night he may have finally cinched his chances with a rock star performance in “Groundhog Day.” It’s an absolutely sensational turn as the lead of this sometimes convoluted musical, but Karl– who last starred in “Rocky”– makes it worth the whole trip.
And what a crowd he drew! Literally everyone from “Law & Order: SVU” was there from Mariska Hargitay and husband Peter Hermann to Kelly Giddish, Peter Scanavino, Raul Esparza, Peter Gallagher and former show runner Warren Leight. (Andy played Lt. Mike Dodds, who they killed off so he could star in this musical. Gallagher played his father in the series.)
Then Ben Stiller and wife Christine Taylor brought their 15 year old daughter Ella. Victor Garber, of course, was front and center. So were father and son team Peter Hedges (he wrote “Gilbert Grape,” directed “Pieces of April”) with his Oscar nominee son Lucas from “Manchester by the Sea.”
I also ran into Jesse Eisenberg, Bobby Moyhnihan, and Hope Davis. I may have seen Christian Slater, but the August Wilson Theater is so huge– and so unwieldy for socializing– who knows! The great musician Peter Cincotti was in the house as well.
“Groundhog Day” is an adaptation of the Harold Ramis 1991 Bill Murray-Andie McDowell movie that has only gotten more charming over the years. But if you thought it was hard to follow on screen, on stage it’s a bit of a Rubik’s Cube. The structure doesn’t lend itself to live theater. It doesn’t help that the songs are somewhat lacking no matter how much the talented cast invests in them.
So what keeps you in your seat for two and half hours? Andy Karl. You’re only going to hear raves about him today everywhere. Not only has he got the voice, the looks, the athleticism– but he’s also something of a magician. Karl has a busted knee– he wears a knee brace which is visible in some scenes– and there are some inside jokes. But once you see the show, you see how he could hurt his knee. There are sight gags and ‘sleight of hand” tricks that would make Houdini jealous. Even after the third time Karl manages to move from one spot on stage to another, you’ll be wishing you’d paid closer attention.
Kudos to the rest of the cast including Barrett Doss, Rebecca Faulkenberry, and John Sanders– the latter gets one of the few really good songs, maybe because he comes from composer Tim Minchin’s “Matilda.” Quite a nice surprise. (If only his character were more distinctly fleshed out from the movie version.)