#127 GROUNDHOG DAY (FEAT. BRENT BLACK AKA BRENTALFLOSS)
Groundhog Day – Episode #127 – February 4, 2021
JESS: Hello I'm Jesse McAnally.
ANDREW: And I am Andrew DeWolf.
BRIANNA: And I'm Brianna Jones.
JESS: And welcome to Musicals with Cheese, the podcast where I try to get Andrew and Bree to like musical theater. And today, getting his title back as the most guested person on this show -
ANDREW: Is this even a guest anymore?
JESS: Yeah, he's basically the third host, we’ve said this every time he’s been on.
ANDREW: It’s like the guy that won't leave after the party's over.
JESS: No no no. it's our wonderful guest, Brent Black aka brentalfloss. Yay, Brent.
BRENT: Hello, hello. Yeah, I see you all looking at your watches and yawning, I get it, I get it, party’s over.
JESS: Oh surprise, the second guest of 2021 is Brent, what?
BRENT: I mean, I do appreciate the title of most guested, but also - as I think I mentioned almost every time I'm on - I literally invited myself onto your show in the first place. So, on the one hand, a compliment for me but also, you know, less impressive because I was like, “Hey, Hi, I'm gonna be on your show. Hello.”
JESS: It was by his own design to be the most guested person on this show.
ANDREW: We couldn’t turn him down. I mean, we had – what? Five viewers at that time and you were one of them.
JESS: Yeah. We owe basically any success we have ever had to you because you were the one that made us feel like, “Okay, we can fit guests into this format.” So, if not for you, we wouldn't be what we are today and we mean that with no irony.
JESS: No irony whatsoever. So thanks, Brent. But you also decided what we're talking about today and it kind of has to do with something that happened earlier in the week that this is posted.
BRENT: Yes, yes. Every now and then, when I think of a musical that I like and I'll go, “Wait, is there a Musicals with Cheese on that?” and I'll scroll through all 8000 episodes and go, “They haven’t done that one yet.” Break my index finger just trying to look through. And, yeah, so I was like, “Jess, have y’all done Groundhog Day?” because it was just on my mind. I'd gotten back into the album. And I actually saw it, I think in the first month of its Broadway run in 2017. So, you know, I know it pretty well. And well-timed considering the time of year.
JESS: Fantastic. In case you haven't picked up on it, this week we are covering Groundhog Day. Cue the music, Bree.
(Seeing You plays)
JESS: Groundhog Day is a musical with music, lyrics by Tim Minchin and a book by Danny Rubin, based on the 1993 film Groundhog Day by Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis. It premiered on Broadway at the August Wilson Theatre on April 17, 2017. It ran for 176 performances and 32 previews and closed on September 17 of the same year. It was nominated for seven Tony Awards and won none. And it's about Phil Connors, who is a cynical Pittsburgh TV weatherman who is sent to cover the annual Groundhog Day event in an isolated small town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, when he finds himself caught in a time loop, forced to repeat the same day again and again and again and again and again, and each day plays out exactly the same as before, as Phil becomes increasingly despondent. But there is a lesson to be learned through all of his experiences. Will he ever unlock the secret and break the cycle? Guess you'll have to listen to the musical - or listen to us talk about it, I don't care.
ANDREW: Or watch the movie.
JESS: No, don’t do that.
BRENT: As a quick footnote, it opened in the West End in 2016, won Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical there before it came to Broadway. Did, I think, much better, all things considered, in the West End than on Broadway.
JESS: That’s the thing about most comedic musicals. I feel like they tend to do very well in the West End and then kind of do very badly on Broadway. Same with Matilda. Matilda was the biggest thing in the world in the West End and then it came to Broadway and it was like, “it’s aight.”
ANDREW: New York City is a humorless place. They don't like to laugh.
JESS: They do, but they like it vulgar and cynical.
BRENT: Unless it’s the tourists. That's basically – like, I lived there 10 years, so Andrew, I had two emotions during the sentence you just said. The first one was like, “Hey!” and the second one was like, “Oh, you're not wrong.” I remember friends of mine with bands would tour through New York, and they'd have their whole thing – like, of course when you're in Iowa, you want everybody to clap at a certain part of the song or sing something back like call and response. Audiences will do it, they're drunk, they're having a good time. In New York, it just makes the bones in their body turn to cartilage. They sink into their chairs and just glare.
ANDREW: I can't blame them. I mean, they live in the worst place in the whole world.
BRENT: Oh I miss it. I really - Unironically, no I really do, I really do.
ANDREW: I've been to New York like twice.
JESS: I feel like every time I’ve been to New York, it’s like being in a trash can.
ANDREW: Yeah. That's my feeling as well.
JESS: Maybe we're just in the wrong places in New York, we're just in the Times Square nonsense.
BRENT: Just call me Templeton the rat. Put me in that trashcan, baby, nommynomnoms.
ANDREW: I think some people just like living in trash.
BRENT: I do indeed.
JESS: If the song New York, New York, “if I make it there, I can make it anywhere” – that’s a threat.
ANDREW: “It's really hard to make it here.”
BRENT: (sings) I live inside a garbage can, New York, New York.
JESS: So Brent. This is our second – like, we've never had a repeat composer or composing team since - with you, before. But this is it. We did Matilda with you earlier last year.
BRENT: Oh, that's right, yeah.
JESS: So, we got a Tim Minchin connection here, which I think suits you, because he did comedy music and then went to musical theater kind of similar to -
BRENT: Oh yeah, I definitely have done the thing where I see how much older than him - Or rather, how much older he is than me and go, “How many years do I have to catch up with his career?” because of a similar-ish career path, but yeah. You're right about that.
JESS: So, I think it’s only apt. So, I'm curious - what did you think of Groundhog Day, as a thesis statement for how you just generally feel about it?
BRENT: Okay, so, I think it's a very competently done show. The book’s funny, there are some nice laughs in the score, there are some catchy tunes, there are some smart tunes, and it runs a bit long but the writers found a lot of smart ways to tick all the boxes. It's very hard to tell a cinematic story on stage, and they actually found a way to do a lot of montages that impressively tell the audience a lot of information really quickly. But I think that it's got two fundamental flaws that hold it back. Clearly it did very well in the West End, but the two fundamental flaws that I think hold it back from being a little bit - I don't know, bigger of a deal or something. Number one is I think if the show had come out like in 2003, around the time of the Full Monty musical or Avenue Q, it would be a little more palatable to have this white cisgender straight male being an absolute cruel sexist asshole for two thirds of the show - Including, you know, sexual harassment and just lines that really after – Like, in a post-Trump world - the show came out on Broadway pre-metoo but post-Trump, and you could just feel a certain squick in the audience with certain lines that –
JESS: It’s boomer humour.
ANDREW: It’s from the movie though, isn't it? Because in the movie -
BRENT: Which was 24 years earlier.
BRENT: And so, it's like - that's all I'm saying. It would have felt like the right kind of edgy in 2003, but in 2017, and beyond, it basically makes it hard to follow this protagonist. And you could argue it's kind of like Scrooge, you know? Anyway, I'll get more into that. That's fundamental flaw number one. Fundamental flaw number two - and I know Jess and I are going to disagree on this because of discussions we've had prior to recording, but - I think it's a story that is not improved with the musical theater format. I think the best way to tell it that I've seen was the movie, and it seems like they went, “You know what would be cool? A Groundhog Day musical.” But some stories blossom from being told in a musical theater format, and only a few times do I feel like there's a deepening and an enriching of the story that happens from being onstage over the movie. And certainly it's not as efficient as the movie because it's 40 minutes longer and tells even a little bit less of the story. Again, I think, competently written. I don't know that there's a much better Groundhog Day musical you could do except maybe chopping off 10 minutes. But yeah, I just, I don't know that it needed to be made, I don't know that it's the kind of story that sings into the kind of musical that I like. That's where I'm at.
JESS: Now, Andrew, what about you? What are your general thoughts?
ANDREW: Well, I mean, just coming off of Brent's points - I think I agree, actually, with your second point that I saw Jess and all the patrons saw Jess shaking his head at. Here's the thing, Jess hates Bill Murray.
JESS: I don’t just hate Bill Murray.
ANDREW: He's going to deny it. He's going to deny it. The reason he doesn't like the movie is he hates Bill Murray, okay? He's going to deny it, he's gonna have all these reasons, “Oh, he's terrible in the movie.” He just hates Bill Murray.
JESS: I don't, is the thing.
ANDREW: I am poisoning this well, okay? it's poisoned. All right? Okay. You're absolutely right, though. It's kind of like a story that cycles over and over again, so you get the same songs quite a bit. Only one character really has any growth, so only one character can really get any songs because every other character in the entire show just resets every single time.
ANDREW: So it's, you can't do a whole ton with it, music theater-wise, unless it's just a character piece, but then you kind of lose the comedic elements of it and - I mean, his character is not a nice one that you really want to see a lot of.
BRENT: It's hard to root for him.
ANDREW: Yeah, I mean, you touched on it, but most of the plot of this - or at least a solid portion of it - is him just trying to sleep with every woman in town, and using information that he gains in conversations to basically use against them in the future on the second cycle where they don't know that he knows already all these facts about them and he uses that to get in bed with them. That's in the movie. And it's a little creepy.
BRENT: Well, you know, I think when you look at Bill Murray/Harold Ramis movies, right, you've got Ghostbusters, you've got Scrooged - There's this trope, and if you look at 80s, 90s movies starring comedians, it's like, it tells you a lot about how far we've come because it's them being mischievous doing things that all men I guess at the time wish they could do or were doing but - And I mean like, you know, do I wish sometimes that I could, you know, have sex with every woman that lives in a small town in the middle of Pennsylvania? Well, not all of them. But the point is that – no, I'm just saying like, it's a weird fantasy element there, but I don't think we quite stand for it now and –
ANDREW: I think it's more of the execution that ruins it.
BRENT: In the movie or in the musical?
ANDREW: In both, I think. Because I think the concept is funny if it wasn't played off – like, he has the parts where he goes too far and she freaks out about it and it's like, “Ooh. Now it's really off-putting.”
JESS: All right, all right. I need to spit my two cents in here really quick. I'm trying to be diplomatic here. I think a lot of what I like about this - and the reason why I think this adaptation works a lot better than a lot of movie to stage adaptations, is the fact that they are like, “Alright, we need to kind of punish our main character more than we did in the previous version,” and I feel like that is articulated better. And so, part of the reason why he is a little bit more hateable nowadays means his punishment needs to be even bigger. So, they really dive into the depression side of him. It feels - I see a lot of the British humor coming out. Like, this feels a lot like The Office UK in comparison to the ‘93 version being like The Office US - where this is a much darker, meaner-spirited piece, and therefore the main character needs to suffer and be – Like, his deeds need to be worse and therefore his punishment needs to be worse, and we need to focus on that and the re-education of himself as opposed to, ooh goofy hijinks and all that. Because, more or less, we try to develop the town more than the movie does. Every little bit of the town comes to life and you kind of buy his rejuvenation into a better person, whereas Bill Murray - he learns to play the piano! And then people like him but he's still kind of asshole Bill Murray. Unlike this one, he doesn't actively learn about the people individually. Like, they show you, “Oh, he got people together,” but that's just him playing the math problem of everything. Here he's remembering and engaging as opposed to like, “You know, I'm just gonna play Superman because it feels good to be Superman all day.”
BRENT: I'm curious, though, Jess - Did you watch the movie in preparation?
BRENT: Okay, so, I'm in that case, gonna back off. My thought – Well, I think really what I'm getting at in the big picture is, I have nostalgia for the movie, and you don't. And so, whereas I'm sitting there unable to stop comparing the movie to this show, and unable to turn off my musical theater writer brain where I'm thinking, “Oh that's how they adapted that. That's how they made this on stage because they couldn't blahblahblah.” But I think my baggage of nostalgia probably takes points away from my opinion of the musical, whereas if you don't like the movie - I mean, I think so many great musicals are based on flawed subject matter or flawed source material, and the musical - Like Little Shop of Horrors the musical –
ANDREW: I was just gonna mention that actually.
BRENT: Yeah, it's a bad, little, ridiculous movie but the musical somehow inflates it into this thing that's as silly but - by adding real emotion to the camp via music and song - makes it bigger and better. And I'm just not sold on whether this musical does that for the movie Groundhog Day. Though, to your point, Jess, it is one of the better and more clever adaptations of a movie. I think it's in the Legally Blonde league, whereas I think like Shrek is - while it's competently done, I think Shrek is a slightly lower movie adaptation. I think High Fidelity, little known High Fidelity the Broadway musical, a few rungs under that. So, I'll give it that. It's a clever adaptation of a very cinematic movie.
JESS: But then again, the premise, in and of itself, suits itself to stage. It takes place in one location, and by that fact they are trapped there. I think that's a brilliant theatrical idea, in and of itself. And they do it very well, where the tricks of like, “Everyone's moving the same way every single shot in Groundhog Day,” can be used for dancing. I think that's also a clever use of stagecraft. I don't know if the staging is perfect. I think that's honestly my biggest detriment of this. They have this turntable - because everything wants to be Les Mis or Hamilton because turntables - that I don't think is a good visual aid, and –
BRENT: That's so funny. I think the turntable is necessary for some of these montages but I think that sometimes the dancing, I'm like - I don't know. Like, when we see the marching band over and over again and I'm like, “Would it have been so bad for the marching band to just be annoyingly a marching band? Rather than moving around in ways a marching band would never move around?” Like, again, it's a musical –
ANDREW: It’s to impress the audience.
BRENT: Sure. And it's like, why do I care about realism in a musical that's also about a Twilight Zone sci-fi or fantasy premise? it just like little things like that. I don't know. And I just want to remind the audience, listening, you know, having gone to grad school for this stuff, it's kind of my job to be a grumpy nitpicker, but I do think this is a –
ANDREW: Oh, he does it, too.
BRENT: I mean, I do. But just know - this is a good show. But I am physically unable to avoid having lots of little thoughts, nitpicks, and issues with both the staging and writing of any show. That's just how it is.
JESS: We're recording two episodes tonight, and this is going to be a theme between the two of them is the difference between UK theatre and American theater. I think that this took a lot of - because I've seen a bootleg of the original UK version and they're relatively the same except for some lighting and staging choices, which are changed to suit an American audience and make it broader and bigger and more Broadway, which ruined it a lot for me -
BRENT: You mean you mean lower hanging fruit for people from Nebraska?
JESS: Yeah. From Punxsutawney, Philadelphia. Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania. Those are two different places.
BRENT: No offense, Nebraska listeners, but you know what I'm talking about.
JESS: But I want to bring up this fact. That this was not originally a Tim Minchin composed thing. It was actually approached to Stephen Sondheim first, and he said in a 2008 chat that, “To make a musical out of Groundhog Day would be to gild the lily, it cannot be improved.” So, I feel like Sondheim agrees with Brent here. I feel like Brent has Sondheim on his side in this argument.
ANDREW: Sondheim likes the movie a lot apparently.
JESS: It’s a great script.
BRENT: Yeah, I think - it's not that it's worse per se. It's just that I think it transforms it into something that's not... I mean, I guess really I'm just saying the roundabout way the same thing. It doesn't improve it to make it a musical. It transforms it and deepens certain parts and shortens and truncates other parts. So, it's just like a re-tetrising of the same story, with elements the first one didn't have, but I don't I just don't think it's better.
JESS: I mean, I think the opening is one of its worst segments. Like, I really want to talk about that stupid opening of this musical. And how much I hate it.
ANDREW: I didn't even understand what was happening. Why was there all the screens and, like, what was the point?
JESS: Context for dum dum popcorn shoving people walking in late for the show like, “oh okay he's a weatherman.”
BRENT: I mean, I think that – Okay, so Jess, is your problem with it that they unnecessarily used all that technology just once? Because my thought - let me back up my point before you answer that question. I think seeing him in his natural habitat, seeing him doing his job and getting a sense that he's kind of a dick before anything else starts is a good way for people that haven't seen the movie to just establish - just like the movie does - where he's coming from what he does. He's a weatherman and by knowing he's a weatherman and seeing the workaday nature of that, it just seems like he's way too full of himself or just being a regular ass, you know, network affiliate weatherman. So I thought it was whether or not they needed to use all those screens, I thought it was a perfectly fine way to start the show.
JESS: I don't like it because we get all that context from Day One, which is the opening number. I think they do a great job of explaining what he's doing, why he's here and how uncomfortable he is, as well as showing him on camera doing his job. And it felt like a hat on a hat because I thought - when I first listened to the album - because I listened to the album before I watched the show - I was like, “Oh, it's just good, we're starting out in Punxsutawney, let's go.” Because we didn't really need that opening coda in the movie. So, I think waking up here and being trapped here will make the story more claustrophobic. And I kind of appreciate the fact that they do it on screen but also there's nothing that we learn there that we don't get in day one in the opening number. And it becomes a cynicism sandwich where we start with cynicism, then we go into the Punxsutawney citizens and the really shitty model of the car spinning on stage for no reason.
BRENT: Yeah. Yeah, I remember. And the way that it's set up, it seems like it's going for a laugh or applause, when you first see that little van. But, it just - I see what they wanted it to look like, but on stage it ends up just looking dinky, and then the way they stage it where people end up walking up behind it, I kept thinking, “if somebody doesn't know the story at all, what do they think is going on? Do they think that there are giant people surrounding this van?” And while we're on the opening, I think that – Okay, this is one of those shows and, like, I literally am currently writing a show that has this problem which is, it has to set up so much in the first bit that sometimes it feels like it's dragging because it's actually setting up all the tools it's going to use throughout the rest of the show. And it pays off because it does that. But, you know, when we have to go into this whole thing with the citizens of Punxsutawney singing about, “Tomorrow, there will be sun.” Like, before we meet Phil in live action, it's so cheesy, it's so sentimental. And it's like, these people - I know that they're representing like a motif, but again – for people that haven't seen the show, it's like, “Why are all these people singing these soaring harmonies about tomorrow? The sun's gonna come out? What is this? Annie?” it's just so heart swelling and I look at it and go, “They don't actually feel that way. The writers are just using that to establish a motif.” And I wonder if it was just the wrong time or if it should have been a dream Phil has or something.
JESS: No, no.
ANDREW: They’re trying to juxtapose -
JESS: Yes, but there's the juxtaposition – like, we have the Phil on screen, then we juxtapose it with that opening number, then we juxtapose it again with Day One, have the sincerity, then juxtapose that with Day One and then we can have the laugh from that.
ANDREW: I don’t know if the sincerity makes sense, though.
BRENT: Yeah, if we wanted to juxtapose different levels of vulnerability, sincerity, small town big town, then show the citizens of Punxsutawney doing a little silly polka. Like, in the movie when Phil first goes down to the pavilion, they're singing this Oktoberfest-style polka in the background. And it just feels like people are like do-si-do-ing. The way that they do the (sings) “tomorrow, dadababa,” it's like, that's great, but I don't buy that coming out of the mouths of the characters singing it. And, I mean, openings are so hard. The first 10 minutes is so hard. But I just, it lands funny to me.
JESS: In the context of those people singing that tomorrow is Groundhog Day which is literally the only thing that these people in this community are known for, it's their big event, I get why they're like, “Tomorrow, it’s gonna be great.”
ANDREW: Groundhog Day isn't sentimental. Groundhog Day is tacky. Groundhog Day, -
JESS: It is tacky, but the people there love it.
BRENT: That’s funny, Jess. I honestly - maybe this is a huge blind spot for me. I hadn't thought in terms of it being tomorrow for them being Groundhog Day, but that makes sense because it's before Phil wakes up. Even then, if they just would have been like “Tomorrow, the groundhog will show its head,” just a little bit clearer because having seen the show twice, and knowing the movie, it's just so clear that they're just putting something into motion that feels jarring at that time in the show. That's all I'm saying.
JESS: I get it, I do. That's not even the real opening number. The real opening number is Day One, that should be like a coda, but I guess they were trying to do with this “tomorrow” and all that.
BRENT: It just sounds like they've all been in jail for a year and tomorrow they're gonna get out. Like, that's what the content of it feels like.
ANDREW: Well, what did the show do better than the movie? Is there anything?
BRENT: I have my thoughts.
JESS: I want Brent to go first.
BRENT: Well, okay. So I, you know, as usual took notes on all the songs and I think that the second act has a few moments where we get a deepening of the story that fills it out and rounds it out a bit. When I first saw the song Night Will Come sung by Ned Ryerson I was like, “Oh, don't give a sappy ballad to Ned Ryerson.” And then I thought of it in terms of this being a different entity than the movie, and going, “Oh, oh, the life insurance guy is also this herald of death. And this man dealing with it. And, you know, it's like there's the seven stages of grief but Phil goes through these different seven stages of wanting to have sex, and then wanting to have Rita, and then you know. And this is the point at which he realizes that no matter how nice he can be, he can't beat death. And yet he can't, you know, have it either. I'm getting off track. The point is that there's that. There's, um, I think, the way - eventually, eventually - the way that Rita functions for the story, like in the last half hour, okay? Finally. The way she functions for Phil's development and the way that he is more vulnerable and we get to really feel the emotions he goes through with her and with the final day - Those are a little more touching than the movie version and I actually found myself crying a little bit right at the end. And I think I just went like, “I'd love to get past the groundhog day that is COVID lockdown.” And, you know, in a way, I kind of got it more than the first time. But I think that – and, I mean, of course, there are some laughs that weren't in the original script that I'm sure are great, that I just didn't take notes of. But in general, yeah, I think just the emotional content of the last half hour is about the only thing that I think it does better than the movie.
JESS: Yeah, I think the dark stuff is handled better.
ANDREW: I was gonna say that too. I think anything where it's like, he's trying to recover from all of this and trying to figure out how to make his way, is better. Because in the movie it's just for laughs. Like, it's really all for laughs in the movie.
JESS: Yes, and that's my problem with Bill Murray. I'll talk about that soon. Oh my god.
ANDREW: Yeah, your problem with Bill Murray is that he's a comedian.
BRENT: Well, let me tell you something. I don't mean to well actually your point out of existence, but Bill Murray wanted it to be much more of a philosophical Twilight Zone episode, and Harold Ramis wanted it to be more of just a comedy and that led in part to the dissolution of their friendship, all the way up to Harold Ramis’ deathbed. So, it almost feels like Bill Murray felt an obligation to be funny Ghostbusters Scrooged Bill Murray, but actually wanted to escape that with something a little bit more exploratory of the human condition. And ironically ended up coming off like comedian Bill Murray, to your point, Jess.
JESS: No no, my point is you can see the contempt for the director in all the serious scenes because he can't play it more that way. So he's just kind of looked bored and angry during the scenes where he’s supposed to be emotional. Like, the bum scene, he just kind of looks like, “Eh, whatever, do another one.” Like, none of it feels real to me because he doesn't take it seriously enough. He just does not feel like an actor in tune with what he's doing because I feel like, throughout that movie, he can play a dick pretty well when he's angry. I feel like most people, when they're angry, can perform a dick pretty well, but when you have to play an emotional scene and you're just not into it and it's obvious because Bill Murray isn't a seasoned actor in the same way that say Robin Williams is - It just doesn't read quite as well. Whereas Andy Karl, I think, doesn't really play the comedy stuff that great in this. However, I think his emotional side here really lands in a way that I was shocked by.
BRENT: That brings me to a question that I kept thinking about - Bill Murray as a type. At the age he was, he was about the same age when they did the movie as Andy Karl was doing this show, but they’re types. I kept trying to figure out what it is, there's just - it's not particularly a size or a weight thing, it's just there's a there's a - you know, I thought “Oh, well, Bill Murray was losing his hair.” Not really, there's just like a schlubby feel to Bill Murray whereas Andy Karl has this kind of hot fit thing going on. And so, I sat there and thought like, you know, a Brian d'Arcy James or like maybe even a Norbert Leo Butz would have felt a bit more like Bill Murray, but - Did they choose the hot guy to make him harder to hate for those Nebraska moms who statistically bring their families to Broadway shows?
JESS: You know what - as weird as it sounds, Andy Karl just looks more like a weatherman. Like, he looks like a guy I'd see on a local Philadelphia –
BRENT: That's interesting.
ANDREW: They don't hire weatherman because they can predict the weather, let's just say that.
JESS: Yeah, he looks like a handsome guy. I honestly would be much more interested to have - what's his name from the Carousel revival – Joshua, oh shoot, Josh Henry. He would have been amazing as this character, because – One, he has that charisma and all that, and has the comedy chops. And as you can tell from him in the Carousel revival, he can play a lovable asshole in a way that you can still be palatable by the end. I think he would have been great in this role and I feel like they chose - Andy Karl was the easy choice, as bad as that sounds.
BRENT: He also had star power. Like, he's one of the few - how do I put this? Just, you know, classic leading man, kind of guys that you see on Broadway that makes a name for himself and he's stuck around. I mean, what, like Pretty Woman and also - I don't know all of them but I just know that for a while he's kind of the default –
JESS: White guy in –
BRENT: Yeah, yeah. Straight male lead, romantic lead guy.
JESS: Someone that would have been a really good mix between Andy Karl and Bill Murray that I think hits right between them, Christian Borle. Christian Borle would have been a great choice -
BRENT: That's interesting because he did play - Like if he brought a little bit of that Marvin from Falsettos to it, like -
BRENT: Because he played that and I was curious about his casting as Marvin in the 2016 Falsettos because I was like - I don't know, I just, you know, after seeing him in Legally Blonde it's like, “If that's really the way you're going with Christian Borle,” but like, it worked.
BRENT: So like yeah, maybe. I think Christian Borle has this eternally 27 kind of feel to him but then again, sometimes costuming and makeup and who knows what can make you – that’s really what I'm saying - is like, Andy Karl, I don't know. There's just - The idea of Bill Murray, having sex with 90% of the women in Punxsutawney to me is a richer and more interesting story than Andy Karl just rolling up and being like, “Hello, I'm Andy Karl. Would you like to have sex? Yes? Okay, that was easy.”
JESS: But I can see that being the reason why it has less meaning to him. Because he's kind of always used to getting what he wants. He looks like a guy that always gets what he wants.
BRENT: Yeah, that's an interesting – And it makes him look like more of a - even if this is just what he thinks of himself, like an elite, big city, I-need-my-fancy-coffee kind of guy.
JESS: The last thing I want to talk about before we go into our favorite segment, Breeviews. I really want to bring up that a small change that I think made a world of difference is the fact that Rita never properly needs Phil before this. Because I do not believe Andie MacDowell in that movie, from one day, would ever fall in love with Bill Murray, considering they have a past history and he's always been a dick. One day is not enough to change that in my opinion.
BRENT: That's interesting. Yeah, yeah.
JESS: Having her just meet this guy and him being able to kind of make those impressions on her, I think that really sold it - where she's like, “Everyone said he would be an asshole and he is and some days he is and some days he isn't.”
ANDREW: How many chances did he have to change your mind, though? Because I think I've read an interview somewhere that there's differing opinions on how long he was stuck in this loop, but some people say it was sort of like millions of years. So, you know, maybe eventually he could get it right.
JESS: I remember Danny Rubin, when he like wrote the script, the first version of the script - Started midway through, like 100 years in, where Bill Murray already knew everything, Phil Connors already knew everything. And that would have been an interesting way to do this musical differently.
ANDREW: That actually would be a really cool move.
BRENT: You know what, though? I gotta push back on that and say I think that it really misses out on seeing him - Seeing the premise unfold and seeing how he doesn't know what's going on and it affects him. Because so much of this is breaking down the defenses, the arrogance, the self-sufficiency and cruelty of this character. And I mean, I think that when you ask, Andrew, “How many chances did he get?” Well, he may have had 1000 years of trying with Rita, before he realized he had to change as a person because he couldn't find in his toolbox, in his personality any way to get her to fall in love with him. But only when he was humbled enough and, you know, without even meaning to, perhaps, he changed, and then he could. But yeah, I like to think it's at least 1000s of years. If he memorized the almanac in the hotel room, that’s gotta take a minute.
ANDREW: I just love the premise. It's so bizarre. What cosmic entity set it up where it's like, “Yeah, you're stuck on this day until you get this girl.”
BRENT: Andrew, I actually think I have an answer to your question, at least based on the staging of this show. I thought the following when I saw it on Broadway and I thought it again. When Phil is being a total dick on the first Groundhog Day, they're doing the scene change into the diner - and this was probably unintentional – but, to distract the audience perhaps from the scene change, they keep the spotlight on the beaver. Not the beaver, why would I say the beaver? The groundhog. I love Beaver Day. This musical Beaver Day.
JESS: “You entered the wrong theater.”
BRENT: I went to see some beavers, over and over again, every day for 1000 years. Beavers, beavers, beavers.
JESS: Hundreds of thousands of beavers.
BRENT: Okay, so, I'm embarrassed. The point is that the groundhog in the mascot suit, just kind of looks at Phil and shakes his head, but he keeps shaking - I say he, I don’t know the pronouns of this Beaver. The thing is, he just shakes his head at Phil, and I'm like, “This groundhog has on a stick, a hanging sun, and a hanging snowflake.” And he hits Phil in the head, over and over again with this sun. And then later, when you see the tiny van trying to drive out of Punxsutawney, what happens? The mascot of the groundhog takes a shovel and puts a little bit of snow on the van. There's like an implication that this groundhog is like the spirit of Punxsutawney cursing Phil. And then later, when Phil's starting to become a good person during the sequence called Philanthropy, who is there playing the drum set jubilantly and really well? The groundhog in the outfit. I mean, again, this is –
JESS: Bree, play the X-Files theme. Play the X-Files theme right now.
ANDREW: It’s the groundhog.
(Jess sings the X-Files theme)
BRENT: You know what I should do? My friend Samantha was actually - I think she did wigs and costume wrangling for this show. I actually got to walk out on set, I got to very briefly say hi to Andy Karl. He apparently got a haircut, at least once a week so his hair would match the opening sequence. And he said hi to me very in that way of like, “I don't know who you are, I'm just being nice because you're in this room.” But, I should ask her – like, was that intentional? Anyway. But yeah -
ANDREW: It makes a lot of sense. I mean, yeah –
JESS: You know what else makes a lot of sense? New York Times critics reviews. It’s time for our favorite segment of this entire show - it's time for Breeviews, where we compare our opinions with those of the New York theater critics at the time this came out.
(Breeviews theme plays)
JESS: All right, what do we got today?
BRIANNA: Okay, it said Ban Brantley, but I changed it to Ben Brantley because I figured that's who we were talking about today.
JESS: Yes, it's always Ban Brantley -
BRIANNA: Ban Brantley of the New York Times. Okay. So, Ben Brantley of the New York Times said, “It is cool (as in hip) and warm (as in cuddly); it is spiky and sentimental. And it transforms its perceived weaknesses into strengths in ways that should disarm even veteran musical-haters.”
ANDREW: Is that supposed to be me?
JESS: Yeah, you’re the musical hater, technically, according to the show –
ANDREW: It was pretty good, I guess, I don’t know.
JESS: “I don’t know if it would transform me into something.”
BRIANNA: “As we watch our hero, the professionally snarky weather reporter Phil Connors (Mr. Karl), having to re-experience the same events, the claustrophobia is heightened by his being surrounded by a chorus forever moving and musicalizing in the same monotonously, relentlessly peppy styles.”
BRENT: Harry Styles’ weird brother.
JESS: There we are.
BRIANNA: I almost said peppy steps. Cus that sounds like –
BRENT: Peppy steppes –
BRIANNA: Peppy steppes. And then he switches over to sound like a pirate. “’Aargh!’ you think. ‘Somebody - ” I don’t know why I’m trying to do that, okay.
JESS: He does literally write the word ‘Aargh.’
BRIANNA: “’Aargh!’ you think. ‘Somebody please get me out of this musical, stat!’ Except only a part of you feels that way, because Mr. Karl is doing the suffering for you, in a manner that makes you both root for his deliverance and hope he’s stuck forever in purgatory (partly because he deserves to be, but partly because he’s so entertaining in limbo). But even given those caveats, I grinned pretty much all the way through ‘Groundhog Day,’ unexpectedly happy to be stuck with Phil in Punxsutawney (and please never make me spell that again).”
JESS: Thanks, Ben Bradley. I was shocked at how positive he was about this. Like, sometimes he surprises. Like, The Prom was another big one where he's like, “This is the best musical of the last 10 years.”
BRENT: And Lysistrata Jones was one where I was like, “Really?” Or maybe it was Bring It On. I forget, one of those two, he was just like -
JESS: Bring It On is apparently is really good. I have not looked at that. But apparently it’s just like All About Eve.
BRENT: Maybe it was Lysistrata Jones, which, like, maybe it was good, I've only heard the album, but it's like, you just never know with Ben Brantley. And I hate to say it, but as with any critic who has to write a review overnight, get it published overnight, the mood that they're in, if they don't even get to sleep on it, it's gotta be pretty much shooting from the hip. And if you had a bad day, well, maybe you're not gonna like Wicked as much as if it had been on Tuesday.
JESS: The thing that bothers me about Ben Brantley and Wicked specifically is he calls it preachy, which is one of the wackiest things considering he loved Avenue Q so much.
BRENT: Interesting. I have a lot of thoughts about what you just said. I think we can all agree that Ben Brantley is –
JESS: A piece of shit.
BRENT: He's a wild card.
JESS: We got one more review from Jesse Green who I know very little about, but I think he's actually a really good writer in and of himself. So, I think he's much better for the head critic of New York Times than, say, Ben Brantley.
BRIANNA: Ben Brantley.
JESS: Ben Brantley.
BRIANNA: Okay. So, Jesse Green of Vulture said, “There were plenty of times throughout when I felt, with Phil, that I’d seen this all before. The adaptation from the film is, in that sense, too faithful; despite the musical’s theatrical cleverness it is often literal and choppy, like word-by-word Google translation. But at least it gets better as it loops along. Perhaps all it needs is a few thousand more iterations.”
JESS: I think that is a fair way to describe it. And Ben Brantley doesn't write reviews in the same way that YouTube critics write reviews. Jesse Green does, and I think he does it well.
BRENT: Well, that's where the culture’s gone. So, like, may as well. I mean, the thing is, like, you don't want to be cinemasins about it. But also, there's a way to critique something that's negative and constructive.
JESS: So don’t just say, “There's no lap dance in the scene.” Ding.
ANDREW: That is the best way to criticize things, right?
JESS: “I hate Groundhog Day. No lap dances.” Ding.
ANDREW: Can we just get a lap dance sins? It's just every movie and it just goes through and if there's not a lap dance, you ding it?
JESS: He does that. Literally he does that, anytime, woman on screen, he just says, “No lap dance in this scene. Ding.”
ANDREW: Man, I wonder why our culture is so bad. All right, I don't know which review I agree with more.
BRENT: Well, the question becomes, and I mean, I've had this question with myself watching this show. Should you judge it based on its success in adapting the exact story of the movie? Because at a certain point, you got to write a show - I mean, I guess you have to do both really - if you write it just for people that have never seen the movie, then people that are big fans of the movie might not like that in a myriad of ways. But also, the opposite is true. I mean, I couldn't escape my constant thoughts about the way it was adapted, but you know, I listened to a very low budget, very sweet pair of young women, who did an off-the-cuff YouTube review of it, having not seen the movie. And through their eyes got to kind of go, “Okay, this story works. And maybe it needed to be told significantly differently to work in this format,” but I don't think I ever can get access to the experience of seeing it, you know, on a clean slate.
ANDREW: I just think it's a fun show. And I don't know if it fails in a significant enough way for me to be negative about it.
JESS: I mean, the thing is, for Broadway, you have to be stupendous to stick around is the thing. And that's a problem.
ANDREW: It hasn’t really stuck around, so –
JESS: It didn't even get a national tour, which shocked me because I feel like something like this would do great on tour.
BRENT: Yeah. I don't know. I mean, it bucks convention in ways that initially set off my, “That's not how you do a musical,” but then like, when I peel it back, I go, “Well, maybe the way that you supposedly do a musical according to my grad school brain just wouldn't work for this story.” But it doesn't have the kind of soaring love theme, it doesn't have a sympathetic character who has a thing that they want. It is in fact, a passive, cinematic movie-style protagonist, which doesn't always work as well in a musical. You kind of want a character that moves the action forward toward a goal, toward a big goal. There is a darkness, there is a selfishness. I'm shocked that it didn't get a tour. But, I don't know, maybe it just - I mean, it seems like things that have done more poorly on Broadway still get a tour. Love Never Dies gets a tour. Now to be fair, it's a sequel to - and it's a sequel to Phantom. If you can can tell people it's a sequel to Phantom and none of them ever heard of Love Never Dies because it lasted - I don't know, a day on the West End and never came to Broadway.
ANDREW: That’s an ego project though. Like, that's why that's - I feel like this would be well known. I think most people know Groundhog Day, the movie. I mean, I'm sure they'd be interested in seeing a show of it. I don't know. It’s weird.
BRENT: Certainly more than another Carousel, but that's just me.
JESS: What? What?
ANDREW: I don't need more Carousels, Jess, come on.
BRENT: Like, Summer Stock, sure. But like, let the stuff that's touring – I don't know.
JESS: I wouldn't tour Carousel. I would put it on Broadway at the Lincoln Center for one night and then we'd have our fun, and then take it off for another ten years.
BRENT: Well, that's what I'm saying. Like, they do a Broadway revival of a Gypsy and then tour that revival. And I love Gypsy but it's like, you know, despite my misgivings about Groundhog Day, let that tour.
BRENT: Over Gypsy. Gypsy’s had a couple a couple shots, it turns out.
JESS: The thing is, if they have a movie and a film production, maybe you don't need to tour it.
BRENT: Yeah, I guess, I guess, I’m just thinking from the producers’ -
JESS: Like the Oklahoma, the new Oklahoma thing, I'd want to see that on tour.
BRENT: Maybe they were just simply out of money because you'd think they would go, “We didn't last long on Broadway, we better recoup with a tour.” It's shocking. I mean, I want to say they didn't have a non-replica, post-Broadway production till - was it 2018 in San Francisco?
BRENT: I don't know. Like, it just didn't keep going the way that I would think - Maybe it's the kind of thing that’s really hard to produce because of all the technical requirements, so it doesn't get done much outside of maybe, I don't know, maybe international productions that are Broadway replicas? I don't know. So I have thoughts, but I'm trying not to say them all at once. Are we - Do y'all want to kind of go through the songs, is that –
JESS: Before we do that, we got to go to our mid-show interruption, an hour into this recording.
BRENT: Okay. Yeah. Sorry. Not trying to mute me here, just making sure.
JESS: All right. Let's go into the mid-show real quick.
ANDREW: Okay, here we go.
JESS: Alright, let's talk about Day One.
(Day One plays)
BRENT: Well, I don't know about y'all, but starting with an easy but appropriate laugh line about a pointless erection, certainly made me think every time he woke up for the whole rest of the show, “Wow, you're really slipping into those pants pretty easy, bud, you must have it packed just right. Wow, every time.”
ANDREW: You get good at it. You do it enough times.
BRENT: I mean, again, it's neither here nor there. It just sounds like something that on paper was funny, and then I think, in the physical production of the show - But anyway, it's slightly impractical. But I think the part of Day One before he ever leaves the bedroom is some of the most efficient songwriting in the whole show in terms of - it sets up Phil's personality, sets up why he's there, what he's doing there, and how he feels about the town. And like, if you went straight from that, to him - I'm not saying you should do this - but if you went straight from that, to him on camera talking about Groundhog Day, you'd still know about as much information, aside from the characters he meets that we're gonna see over and over again, but like, it's some really dense, and yet it doesn't feel that dense. It doesn't feel like you're being bombarded with information. It's pretty good in that way. Very efficient.
ANDREW: Which kind of still weakens the beginning and makes that feel even more irrelevant, that they have all that information in such a compact way and they still felt the need to add the screen intro.
JESS: Yeah, that's the thing. Like, this is, as Brent says, it’s an over long show and you can really just cut a bunch out by having the There Will Be Sun element as like a much more like, “Tomorrow's Groundhog Day,” and like, a very sincere belief in it. And then we cut to Day One and cut the first five minutes down and we trim the show a little bit, but -
BRENT: That being said, I will tell you that I'm always frustrated as a lyricist with how the audience doesn't absorb as much as you think in the first five minutes in terms of lyrical information. If you visually show them something, they get it. And this is why I think that the tiny van thing actually doesn't work as well as they think because it's like, it just doesn't look as good as they want. It's trying to set up, “We're going to this place.” And it shows the van, it gives you an idea of the remoteness, but I think there would have been a better way to do that. And I still say, I can stand by the choice of the weatherman segment and some kind of visual that they're traveling, but I think the tiny van was the wrong way to do it.
ANDREW: The more you think about that tiny van, the worse of a choice it was. Because they even have a full size car later in the in the show.
JESS: But it’s also the musical choice when they reveal the tiny man, da da da, da, da, da da. Like, it feels like a big moment. And we're looking at this tiny van.
BRENT: What I think they could have done - And again, this is me talking out of my ass. But you know in movies when they have the map, and they show the trail that the characters are doing on the map?
ANDREW: Well, you got the screens already, you can do that.
BRENT: Yeah, I thought about that just now. But it's like, would that be weird based on like, does it make you think that that's the musical showing you that? Or that that's what's on TV? Audiences, especially at the beginning of the show, aren't very smart. They just can't be, because they don't know all the stuff you're throwing at them, especially if they haven't seen the movie. But anyway, I think that as far as Day One goes, there's one thing he says in the bedroom that is one of my problems with Tim Minchin as a lyricist. I think that he's brilliant, and sometimes gets right to the heart of things and is so funny with a gag, but he doesn't care about scansion and prosody sometimes - or is it prosody? I always go back and forth on that. The point is that if you say the word (stressed first syllable) Xanax, but you say (stressed second syllable) Xanax – Well, say (stressed second syllable) Xanax isn't how you say it. So, if you're hurling all this information a mile a minute at the audience, and they have to stop and think “Wait, what did you just say?” Then, now they're missing the next thing? And he does it all over the show. Like, the idea of like, “What is all this effing effort for?” But it's “What is all this effing effort for?” And so that lands in the audience's ear, like, “What did you just say? A Thing?”
JESS: I get what you're talking about, but Stuck is where it's really, “Oh, that's bad.”
BRENT: But the thing is that like, once you know the song, you're like, “These lyrics are brilliant,” but in the temporal nature of the real time absorption of the lyrics, the audience doesn't get to apprehend them. And that's the first - the Xanax is the first time when it goes, “Xanax in this jacket,” or something like that. And I'm just like, “Tim, you are literally demonstrably better than this. And you just don't seem to give a shit about the scansion, letting the audience hear what word you're saying.” It's one of my pet peeves, not because I'm snobby, but because it's important the audience apprehend what you're saying to them the moment they hear it.
ANDREW: They only get to hear the song one time. If the line goes past them, then they're not going to ever get it.
JESS: Yeah. Speaking of someone that never pays attention to lyrics, that makes a lot of sense from you, Andrew.
ANDREW: It's hard to pay attention to lyrics. I watched the show once and then we do the thing and then you guys are talking about lyrics, I'm like, “Man, I haven’t catched all that.”
BRENT: To be fair, though, I saw it on Broadway, listened to the album many times, listened to my favorite songs on the album, many, many times. So like, I have an advantage in that way. If you just saw it the first time -
ANDREW: Oh, well, I know the words to the songs that I have listened to over and over again from other shows now. But, you know –
BRENT: That’s what I'm saying. Like -
ANDREW: If you asked me to give you lyrics from any of these songs, I'd be like, “Ah, I don't remember.”
BRENT: And that’s the thing though, like - so what that does is it ultimately puts you in the position of someone who went and saw it on opening night or went and saw it and didn't experience it beyond that.
JESS: You are Ben Brantley.
ANDREW: I'm Ben Brantley.
BRENT: Ben Brantley. Bandrew Brantley. Cut it. And beavers.
JESS: Keeping it. Keep it in but add boos.
BRENT: Um, that being said, I feel like - This show feels preoccupied with giving the townspeople things to do and I’m like, “They have plenty to do. They have plenty to do. You could have cut down the stuff with the town people in Day One, and arguably in Day Two by about 20%, and we would have gotten just as much necessary information.
JESS: I think a lot of that is scene transition type stuff. Like, it's there to try to cover up some scene transition to get Andy Karl to the next spot. Because it feels like, “Alright, we just jumped to that, to that, but now we need to go into the who is that, who is that, because we need a couple more seconds for Andy to get to the turntable spot.”
BRENT: That may be, that may be. I just feel like, you know, I recently tweeted, “It's funny how long it takes to realize how short a musical can be when you're writing it,” and I just feel this story does not need to be two hours 20 plus intermission.
JESS: But it does. If you want people to come to see it and not feel like they were cheated out of money.
BRENT: Oh, big disagree, big disagree. Come From Away was 90 minutes, Chorus Line’s 90 minutes.
JESS: I'm with you entirely but a lot of people are like, “Well, if it's not two hours...” Like, they literally added a mega mix to fucking Joseph to make it two hours and 20.
BRENT: I guess I don't know this phenomenon, you may totally be right. You think there's an element of like, “I paid $300 for a mezzanine, I didn’t get my money's worth.”
JESS: Yes, 100%, “I'm entitled to three hours of content.”
BRENT: That's fascinating. I just feel like pacing is so important in the show and this show does have some - It does have some air in it here in there.
JESS: I think the script of Groundhog Day is great. I think that Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis has had a great script. And perfectly toned. I just wish a better actor was in the lead, to be honest. I do want to ask Brent's opinion on the song Playing Nancy, which is one of the weirdest Act Two openers I've ever seen.
(Playing Nancy plays)
BRENT: This song - and I thought this when I saw in 2017 and I think it now - it feels like a response to feedback during the development period that the amount of sexism from Phil needed to be offset by giving female characters more time or like - But I feel like if you're going to have a story song solo from a side character in a Broadway show, it should be the kind of song that would be interesting enough to stand alone, like The Miller's Son from A Little Night Music. And It's not a terrible song. It's competently written. But, first off, I do feel like a lot of Tim Minchin writing internal monologues of women feels like a man writing a woman. Not that I'm necessarily saying I'm better at that, but it's just like, she has to talk about her perky breasts and Rita has to talk about, you know, a prince, and all these things that I just feel like maybe would have been more authentic from a female writer. But that being said, structurally, you want to start Act Two with a comedy. If at all possible, with a bang. Everybody just went and they had a smoke and they had a poop and, you know -
JESS: You know, something like Hope, you know, a song that really hits well as an opening to Act Two.
BRENT: I'll tell you something Jesse. I think Hope should have been the Act One closer because it's got that feeling of, “Oh no, what's going to happen now?”
JESS: I feel like One Day gives you that pretty good too, with the ticking clock and him just miserably waking up again, like, that is a pretty –
BRENT: Sure, sure. To me, I feel like - I like when the curtain falls on the big “Oh no, uh oh, what’s gonna happen?” And I feel like cutting – And also, in terms of pacing, the first and second acts are almost equal in size, which I feel like is also a mistake. I think you want your second act to be tops 40% of the show. But yeah, it just felt unnecessary, structurally confusing, like in terms of where it comes in the show, where it comes in the pacing, and inauthentic. And it just was like, you know - Give the lady in the diner who can't sing a charm song along the lines of that song about the woman that can't sing in Chorus Line. Just make it a gag song, make it the way that like in Addams Family, like Fester’s song with the moon. It's just silly. It's just fun. And it doesn't matter. It's fluff through and through but just bring us in on some fun, and that was definitely not that.
JESS: Now I'm seeing it through Brent’s eyes. I'm seeing you for the first time. And if we had ended Act One on Hope, we could have started Act Two with a charm song and then jump right into If I Had My Time Again, which is also just like, “Alright, we're getting back to the story,” and I'm like “Oh, okay, I could see this structure working much better than Playing Nancy starting Act Two.”
BRENT: Yeah, it just feels like - I don't know. I just - I don't know, but um -
JESS: Maybe Ned Ryerson has a fun goofy number. Oh, so many possibilities.
BRENT: Yeah, yeah and maybe - Yeah, maybe they could have found way to, you know, reprise some of Ned Ryerson’s charm song in Night Will Come. And they sort of do reprise the jingle in a way that I think is like simultaneously a stretch, but also kind of poignant at the end of it - But what do y'all think about Rita’s song, One Day, which is the diary entry where she sings about the kind of guy she'd like to end up with?
(One Day plays)
JESS: I like it in a way that I liked the idea that I'm glad this song exists. Like, I love the way it sounds. I like the way that it builds to the final “tomorrow, spring will come.” And I like how it kind of frames Phil’s reaction to her sincerity. But also, once again, as you said, If It feels like feminist talking points from the sieve of a man.
BRENT: Right, right.
JESS: It's like, “It’s all nipple-less and no pubes.”
BRENT: Right. And it's like – And the thing is that I think that a similar line could be done well by a female writer - and certainly by a male writer - And again, it's not bad. It's just me knowing Minchin’s work as a comedian and through Matilda all these things, I just, I can feel him trying to filter it through his own brain. And probably responding to producer notes and audience notes. But it just feels like he's like, “I'll give her a list of quirks that means that she's not a stereotypical female character.” And it's like, well, the whole thing is a problem in the first place. Because if you look at the character of Rita in the movie, she's one of these Bechdel test failing chess piece characters. She's just moved around - because it's Phil's story. And in a musical, you kind of can't let your female lead never sing her feelings and just be blown around in the wind. And so, again, this is part of why I think that It's a tough property to adapt. It's tough to improve, but also, it has inherent flaws that I think the musical kind of shines a light on.
JESS: Yes, but let's think about another musical based on a film that takes a pretty thankless female character from the movie really expands upon on them and makes them come to life in a song very similar to this - With Kinky Boots and the character Annaleigh Ashford played in that, the factory worker character that becomes love interest. There is so much character, so much life, and she has a very similar song about the guys in her life and how they've kind of ruined her. And it feels very natural and like a human being, whereas this feels like a checklist.
BRENT: Right. Yeah. And it simultaneously makes her seem like she like a character - it's like, there's a shallowness there but also like this stereotypical list of things women want and it just feels like it could have used another - Like, basically, if they'd had the time to reconceive what it’s doing –
JESS: If they had their time again...
BRENT: Well, and I mean, again, it's part of a big, extended sequence of song and scene and song and scene. And it was a real feat to put all these sequences together. It just that it ends up - the content of that song and, generally, the Rita diaries and stuff, it's just like, it is all ultimately about Phil and she can't develop as a character. All we can do is learn more about her which is not the same as watching her have an arc. And it's frustrating, because in a way, Minchin is doing everything he can. Everything he can. But it's - I don't know.
JESS: Oh, here's my Groundhog Day pitch that would have taken in a wholly different direction from the movie. Like, as soon as he tells her about it, she's trapped in a time loop with him. So, it gives them an opportunity to have a character arc where she can develop, too.
BRENT: I had that thought myself. Just like, that would have been a very different movie, but at that point, I don't know.
JESS: Well then, it’s different in a musical. I think that works better for a musical. Like, look at the Heathers musical. That is not a one to one adaptation of that movie at all. And I think it makes a lot of choice that betters that story.
ANDREW: What if it wasn't “when he told her”, it was just “they were both in it?” And he starts noticing that she's not always doing the same thing every single day.
JESS: That might be interesting. Like, that's a twist in the musical. Like, at the end of Act One, we find out that, “Oh, shit, she's trapped in this time loop with me and she just hasn't let me on yet. And that's the reason why she can adapt and all that.”
BRENT: That would be interesting. I think at that point, they'd have to completely re-conceive. Like, that changes the whole thing –
ANDREW: It changes the whole thing, yeah. And what did she do to deserve it? I don't know.
JESS: But then that takes the entire problem with this musical ,which is - it's too close to the movie, which most people would agree, it doesn’t do enough differently. But you could pay all the tributes. You could have the Ned Ryerson and you can have all those other things, and then have this thing for the newbies. That's kind of what made Wicked so great was the fact that, “Yeah, we're all already in the theater because we all know the Wizard of Oz, but there's gonna be some twists and turns that will re-contextualize it.”
ANDREW: Plus we can just accept that the groundhog is not a benevolent force that is trying to help. Phil is just actively a malicious god.
JESS: Yeah, which is much more fun.
BRENT: Yeah, this is definitely a curse. But again, it really does have Ebenezer Scrooge vibes. And it's funny that Bill Murray was a version of Ebenezer Scrooge, just a few years before Groundhog Day because that's what it is. This is just a long, extended version of the three ghosts that show him things that make him go, “Oh, life's so much better than I realized and I should be a nice person.” Okay, so just a couple other thoughts on the songs - Everything About You.
(Everything About You plays)
BRENT: To me, this is the first moment vulnerability - where it actually gets me, and I really buy it. And I think if, I'm not mistaken, it is based on a moment from the movie that seemed, I think, less sincere. This is one of those few moments that I think the musical tells the story in a richer, better way. Him just sitting there and doing that reminds me of The Proposal from March of the Falsettos, where it's just a stream of consciousness, it's barely even melodic, but it feels right. And even though, yeah, Phil knows everything about everyone, but the way he expresses it about Rita, it's really nice. It's really nice.
JESS: Whereas Phil in the movie just feels like Bill Murray remembering his lines.
BRENT: Yeah, I mean, he does it less -The thing is that Bill Murray, the whole - Yeah, the movie is less sentimental in that way. And again, musicals have to deepen the emotional content, or else it shouldn't - It certainly shouldn't be a musical comedy, unless it's extremely avant-garde. And at that point, it's like, “Why am I trying to pay attention to this character? Why am I going to listen to them sing? Like, let me into your emotional life.” Right, let me into your emotional life or else it’s just some weird concert of information.
JESS: The one I really want to talk about is Seeing You, which is the 11 o'clock number.
(Seeing You plays)
JESS: Which is the only time they really embrace American folk music throughout it. The rest of it's like polkas and classic rock and all this. Where this is just taking a moment to like, “Alright, we're pulling out the acoustic guitar and we're gonna be real sentimental here and dive into a true Americana folk music.” And it works emotionally. It doesn't give me that 11 o'clock number of payoff that I kind of feel like something like this needs.
BRENT: It's interesting that you say it's 11 clock. I think the sequence Philanthropy is the 11 o'clock number. Even though it's not a number, nobody's sing, it's the tap number because it's a legal requirement of every Broadway show that they cram tap dance in somewhere. But the thing is, they do it well here. It’s got energy. it's great. And I think that it has the energy and then it ends with - I think it leads right up to the rock version of –
JESS: Punxsutawney Rock.
BRENT: “Who is that emerging from his burrow?” So, yeah, I think that's the 11 o'clock number. I think Seeing You doesn't function that way, but it also, like - I don't know. It all hit differently for me on a second viewing and I think that's partially because, as I am physically unable to fully enjoy any mainstream musical the first time I watch it, but like, this is where I feel like all the stuff they've set up and all the cruelty and all the Rita stuff and all the like, extra time to the musical takes to express itself - just like I'm doing right now - pays off and starts to - It really shows the niceness of Rita kisses him. How big of a deal is that? And the way it's staged and all that? I don't know. I think it's actually well done and it's better done than I gave it credit for on first viewing.
JESS: I also think it has some of the more poetic and effective lyrics. Like, the one I'm thinking of is “I thought that the only way to better days was through tomorrow,” which I thought was like, “Oh, that sums up this entire musical idea so perfectly.”
BRENT: Mm hmm.
JESS: I mean, nothing gets that sentimental throughout the rest of the show. And I feel like that is a good discovery. Like, “Here's what I learned and the lesson I have for you audience members.”
BRENT: Yeah, and at that point they've earned a little bit of that sentimental thesis statement kind of stuff. And yeah, I mean, again, I don't know. I wonder if it's that I'm now nearly four years older than when I first saw this, but also COVID. It just, you know, the last 15 minutes, I wasn't just like, “Uh, just let it end. Oh my god, I know what's gonna happen just, you know.” This time it was among the most solid parts of the show for me. Like, all this stuff they'd set up was finally paying off and they really had earned it. Not perfectly but generally speaking,
JESS: Yeah. I would actually think that a movie version - like a movie remake of this musical - would do a little better, to be honest.
BRENT: Really? That’s fascinating.
JESS: Now that I’m imagining it in my head. I think that could be effective. It all depends on how well the Netflix Matilda goes, I guess.
ANDREW: I think they’d have to trim it down some.
JESS: Oh, that's 100% part of it, but I think it could work. I could see these songs being used in a remake of Groundhog Day and it working.
BRENT: I tend to think that the kind of directors that are handed movie musical projects, for whatever reason by Hollywood, so often are the least well-equipped to tell a story in that way.
JESS: Did you see the director of Billy Madison's doing the 13 movie musical?
BRENT: They're doing a movie of 13?
JESS: Yeah, for Netflix. And it’s directed by the director of Billy Madison.
BRENT: Now, there's one that I'm sure hasn’t aged well lyrically in the last 11 years since it came out or whatever it was. Jason Robert Brown is another one of those guys that his women don't always sound like women. I mean, some of Kathy’s stuff actually is very authentic, but some of his women that he writes are, I would just say not. But again, I don't really have the clout or the chops to pretend that I'm better, but also –
JESS: Oh God, you’re right. I'm just remembering some lyrics from 13 where it's like, “If he does it and you like it, you're a slut.” Yeah, that feels like a man wrote that about 13-year-old children.
BRENT: Yeah, and I mean, like –
BRENT: I mean, I think that there's actually wisdom in that one that's really about society. But also the song Bad Bad News from 13 is a great, truly fun number. But 13-year-olds saying, “He fell for a slut with a fabulous butt,” it's like – you know, you know, I don't know about that now.
ANDREW: That’s not a good look.
JESS: But it is a woman director so that is going to be at least interesting. It might be as good as Susan Stroman doing The Producers.
BRENT: As long as they improve - Maybe I saw it in previews - But as long as they improve, I don't know if it was the actor - But at this - We're not doing 13 - But as long as we're on it - God, I just was like, “Who cares about you? You're not - You don't - ” I don't know. Forget it. The point is –
JESS: 13 sucks.
BRENT: I had a hard time connecting with and rooting for Evan, when I saw 13.
JESS: Yeah, he's a bad, bad person. But that's why you have Archie, who's great and I think is one of Jason Robert Brown's best characters.
BRENT: I mean, again, like, will that play now? I don't know. I don't know.
JESS: Yeah. Okay. We gotta wrap this up. We got another one to record.
BRENT: For sure.
JESS: Brent, what is your overall thoughts on Groundhog Day and your cheese rating?
BRENT: Oh, gosh. Gosh, golly, well. Okay, so my overall feeling is, for what it is, as its own thing, it's simultaneously a feat of writing and a feat of staging. But while also being, I think, an unnecessary way to tell this story, and at worst maybe a little bit masturbatory. A little bit like “Watch me do this, let's see if I can bring this to life in this way.” But, you know, it's good, and it's very competently done. It’s just not my favorite on the whole. It's fine. As far as a cheese rating, there is in fact a recipe called Groundhog Cheese Dip. And it has different kinds of cheese all put together. So, it's like, “Do they go together? Why is it called Groundhog Day? Should you put, you know, cream of mushroom soup together with Velveeta?” Well, I don't know, but it makes a groundhog dip. Different things that may or may not be good together come together for this cheesy groundhog dip. And that's kind of how I think Groundhog Day is. And not just because I googled it three minutes ago.
JESS: Hey, that's more than we did. Andrew, you’re up. What is your overall thoughts on Groundhog Day and your cheese rating?
ANDREW: Um, I mean, I thought it was pretty fun. I don't have a personal attachment to the movie, really, and I don't think it did a disservice to the movie in any way. I don't know. The music is fine, I like the staging, the sequence where he kills himself a bunch of times is pretty fun.
BRENT: Oh yeah. Agree.
ANDREW: Pretty impressive at least, stage-wise.
JESS: Hashtag problematic, Andrew, my god.
ANDREW: Whatever, it's in the show.
JESS: Gonna get us canceled.
ANDREW: Oh my goodness. Whatever. He doesn't even really die. Okay, cheese rating, I'm gonna give it a Bitto Storico, which apparently is a very old type of cheese. It's 10 to 18 years old - because that is not even close to how long he was stuck in this time loop, but he is one of the oldest people ever to live, the Groundhog Day guy. If we add all of those days up.
JESS: All right. I didn't expect to fall down the rabbit hole of my cheese rating, so I'll talk about that in a second. But I like this show. I think it does a lot of improvements, in my opinion, on the movie. And I wasn't really that big a fan of the movie despite having a really good script because of Bill Murray's performance. I think Andy Karl does a lot of good with his choices and Tim Minchin’s score is pretty good, though has some rough areas. So, my cheese rating is any type of cheese from B & B Country Cheese Shoppe in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. I want you guys to look at what this place looks like. I need to show y'all what Google is telling me this place looks like. Because I was just like, “Oh I'm curious.” But they've got great reviews, but oh, sorry, let me chrome tab.
BRENT: Oh, I am on it. B & B Country Cheese Shoppe.
JESS: Like, look.
BRENT: Are you looking at the Facebook page?
JESS: No. This is the images they are showing for their cheese shoppe.
ANDREW: Oh my god, what? That's not a cheese shoppe.
BRENT: What do they sell? Fucking haunted Br- Well, I was gonna say Brie. No, but this looks like a cheese shoppe where, what you're actually going to leave with is murder. This is the unabomber’s country shack. This is not a cheese shoppe.
JESS: Look that up for yourselves.
BRENT: This is where The Blair Witch hangs out.
ANDREW: This is a front for something, I mean –
JESS: A cheese shoppe. Everyone knows about the
ALL TOGETHER: Cheese shoppe.
JESS: On that note, Brent, where can everyone find you on the internet? Promote your stuff.
BRENT: Oh my goodness. Well, if you are interested in seeing an old work in progress draft of my Star Trek musical, which is called KHAN!!! The Musical!!! It's semi secretly lodged/nestled at twitter.com/UASTPM, and it is in the pinned tweet. I'm not trying to tip off the copyright holders of Star Trek – So, that's how you find it. And it's an unlisted video on YouTube.
JESS: Highly recommended.
BRENT: Thank you. Wait till you see the new version that there's no theater world around to develop it in. So, I also have a YouTube channel where I add lyrics to video game tunes and write silly little songs about and that's brentalfloss - youtube.com/brentalfloss. And I've also designed and co-created a party game - it's a digital console and PC-based party game called Use Your Words. And it's on all the current gen consoles, all the Xboxes since the one all the PS’s since the four, the Switch, PC and Mac, and the Wii U. Gosh, I wish it was easier to rattle that list off. More information about that is it at useyourwords.lol
JESS: Hey guys, have you ever wanted to play Use Your Words with brentalfloss aka Brent Black himself? Well, this upcoming Friday, February 5, he 100% will be playing that game with us for our Patreon meetup. If you're a $10 or higher Patreon patron, come join us. There's going to be a lot of fun. There's going to be other guests along with Brent, so it's going to be a lot of fun. I have now tricked him. He has stuck because now we have gone public with it.
BRENT: I literally just opened the calendar app on my Mac going, “I don't recall that. But you know what I'll be there. Any chance to play Use Your Words with people that I actually know and like - You did it, Jess, you really, you did it, you got me. You got me into your creepy cheese shoppe one way or the other.
JESS: Ooh, welcome to Punxsutawney.
ANDREW: Brent cheats at the game.
JESS: Also joining us that night will be Tommy from musicaltheatermash, Princess Weekes, who you might know from Its Lit or her own YouTube channel, and I'm sure that Christy and Emily will show up. And maybe Brendan. so it's gonna be a lot of fun. Pay us some money and you could join.
ANDREW: Heck yeah.
JESS: Alright guys, is there anything else you want to say?
BRENT: Thanks for having me once again. Glad to be in the Six Timers Club.
JESS: Yes, whoo, Six Timers -
ANDREW: No cheese for that.
JESS: I gotta think of something for the 10 Timers Club because I know it's coming like a freight train with Brent here. Well, Brent had to reclaim his number one status because Adam just tied him last time, so he had to come in here and be like, “No I need one more than Adam.”
BRENT: That's right. And it needs to be seasonally appropriate.
ANDREW: Oh yes.
JESS: All right, we'll see you next time on Musicals with Cheese.
JESS: (sings) Who is that, who is that emerging from his burrow? It's Andrew, he's got a gun. He's taking me back to his cheese shoppe.
ANDREW: I don’t have a gun.
JESS: Get away.
ANDREW: You're coming up Punxsutawney with me, we're making nightmare cheese.