Author: atwe

Photo courtesy of Joan Marcus

There’s something fun brewing down on 52nd street. Opening April 17th, “Groundhog Day” is creating a comical storm on Broadway in the August Wilson theater. Based off the the 1993 movie, the show has been adopted into a two act musical with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin (known for his working in writing the music for Matilda).

Andy Karl as Phil Connors. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Andy Karl as Phil Connors. Photo by Joan Marcus.

For those who have not seen the show, Groundhog Day centers around a shallow, arrogant weatherman named Phil Connor, played by Andy Karl. Connor, known for his weather reports, is once again sent to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to cover the annual Groundhog Day event. Frustrated and disillusioned with being sent to a small town to report on a holiday that directly contradicts his own profession, Connor makes his disdain for being sent to report on the holiday abundantly clear. He irritably storms around the town, ignoring those around him and dismissing his cameraman and assistant producer Rita as they record

that the groundhog saw its shadow, meaning there’ll be six more weeks of winter. Later that day, he finally gets excited again — about leaving back for “anywhere but [Punxsutawney].” However, both weather and the local police overshadow his plans as the storm he predicted would not hit the town ends up dousing the small town with a heavy helping of snow and closing down all the roads and highways. Despite his best attempts to leave the town (portrayed with a miniature van circling around the stage), he is forced to spend one more night in little old Punxsutawney.

The cast of Groundhog Day. Photo by Joan Marcus.

The cast of Groundhog Day. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Upon waking up, however, Connor is confused as everyone in the town seems to be talking about Groundhog Day, even when it should be the next day. As he quickly realizes, he’s stuck in a loop — every morning he wakes up in the same bed and breakfast on Groundhog Day.

Throughout the show, Karl perfectly portrays Connor. As the days keep on repeating (marked with characters repeating lines and scenes happening again and again), even the audience can feel his frustration. Even when Connor goes to quite drastic measures to end the cycle, he fails. Eventually, Connor learns to use his “curse” for a greater good — he starts trying to improve the lives of others and is forced to finally think about those around him. Like he says in the show, no one realizes “how deep my shallowness goes.” But as his character develops, we see a new side of him as he learns to focus on being a better person and lifting up those around him — even if they won’t remember it the next day.

Andy Karl and Barrett Doss in Groundhog Day. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Andy Karl and Barrett Doss in Groundhog Day. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Likewise, his associate producer and later love interest Rita Hanson (played by Barrett Doss) is equally as splendid. Not willing to give into just any love interest coming her way, Hanson plays a strong woman who knows what she wants and refuses to settle for less. Hanson tells Connor, “You’re the lucky one–you get to try new things everyday,” when he tells her that he is stuck in a loop. It makes the audience think about what they would do if they could do anything without the consequences of facing tomorrow and the aftermath of a bad decision. Yet, sometimes you want to move forward in life, no matter the regrets you have. Time is a theme that the audience can’t seem to escape while watching the show: it leaves us with lingering questions about our own choices and how we use our time. Focusing too much on success or the future can make us ignore enjoying and contributing to the present.

“Groundhog Day” is a special show. Within two and a half hours, the audience watches the characters grapple with insecurities, rejection, love, and more in a show that is brilliantly hilarious and equally thought-provoking. With its mix of upbeat songs and an incredible story, this is a show that everyone should run and see. As Rita Hanson sings in the middle of Act II, “If I had my time again, I would do it all the same,” and when it comes to whether I would go back to see this show again, I’d have to agree.

Tickets to Groundhog Day can be purchased from here. The show also maintains a daily lottery for those interested in winning discounted tickets.

At first glance, In Transit seems a tad odd: an a cappella Broadway production with no orchestra  based inside a gritty New York City subway station. As the first a cappella show on Broadway, it’s hard  to know what to expect even with a book, music, and lyrics created by Kristen Anderson-Lopez (Frozen), Sara Wordsworth, James-Allen Ford, and Russ Kaplan. Yet as the lights dim and the titular “turn off your cell phone” a cappella jingle from the show’s creators begins, it becomes abundantly clear that the audience is in for a treat.

There’s something  simple yet beautiful about In Transit. Just under two hours, the show focuses on eleven individuals trying to live their lives in New York. Through a talented street artist, Boxman, the audience watches how these people’s lives intertwine and the struggles of balancing their hopes and dreams with the crushing sense of reality. Through his witty beats and charming personality, Boxman unfurls the lives and current struggles of the show’s characters frantically rushing to get on their train (or in some cases, begging for help to pass through the fickle Metrocard turnstiles).

The show features standout performers including Moya Angela (The Lion King, Dreamgirls National Tour, 30 Rock). Throughout the show, Angela effortlessly switches between three characters: a religious mother, a subway booth attendant, and a routine office manager. And in one part of the show, she saunters out in a dress completely comprised of New York City Transit Metrocards!

Another standout performance came from Chesney Snow as Boxman who could produce almost any sound with his mouth — including the sound of the Metrocard Machine again failing to accept the cash he inserted into it. Throughout the performance, it was clear he was energized for the role, as his vocals to immersed the audience in the eclectic cacophony of music and voices in the city.  

In Transit is a thrilling show that is relevant to almost everyone as it questions what it means to follow your dreams and how we deal with rejection and hardship. From start to finish, the show captures your attention and thrusts you right up to the bare, raw emotions of these eleven residents struggling to be themselves and overcome their inner demons. This show will resonate with almost every New Yorker who encounters the trials and tribulations of trying to achieve your dreams in the city that never sleeps. Oh, and the struggles of riding the subway…

Photo courtesy of Russ Kaplan

Photo courtesy of Russ Kaplan

To learn more about the show, we talked with Russ Kaplan, one of the show’s writers. Kaplan, a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama, majored in directing with a minor in jazz piano. During the interview he noted how he originallygot bit by the directing bug in high school. But it didn’t occur to me to start writing music for theatre until I was a grownup and started writing In Transit (at my co-authors’ encouragement).”

But how did the idea for making all a cappella musical come to be? According to Kaplan, “Well, we (the writers) were an a cappella group, so it just seemed sort of obvious at the time. It’s what we were already doing!”

What was the process like of making an a cappella musical? What challenges did you face?

The writing process is actually similar to “normal” musicals…you’re still following the same fundamental rules of dramatic storytelling and trying to write emotional and memorable melodies. The challenges emerge later with logistics and performance, and that list is so long it’ll make your head spin, but I’d say the main one is that all eleven cast members have to sing for a hundred minutes straight…so even a staged reading of In Transit requires exponentially more rehearsal than other shows.

What was the inspiration behind the story of In Transit?

Ourselves and the people we know!

What was the songwriting process like? How did you decide what each song would be about? Were any ideas or sources you drew inspiration from?

First, we’d decide as a group what new songs would be about and what the general sound should be like; then one lyricist and one composer would pair up to do a first draft; then that draft would come back to the group and we’d all tinker together until we had a final draft we were all happy with.  We tried to tap into as many musical genres as possible, especially those that you hear blasting on the subway regularly (which is to say all of them).

As a musician, what do you think music has the power to do for audiences?

Music pretty much gives my life meaning. It’s the thing that provides me with hope and gives the world its beauty.  It was like that for me well before I knew anything about music, and I suspect it’s true for most people, whether the music is “about” something or not. It’s pretty cheesy but I really do think it’s one of the few things that can truly bring people together.

But the biggest piece of advice Russ had for Columbia students? “Sing a cappella. It’s good for you.”

Tickets to In Transit can be purchased through the show’s website here. The show also offers a daily lottery for $39 tickets daily through the TodayTix app.