Art imitates life in 'Groundhog Day: The Musical' premiere at Aurora's Paramount Theatre

  • TV meteorologist Phil Connors (Alex Syiek), center, is flanked by his producer, Rita (Phoebe González), and Punxsutawney Phil (Jake Morrissy) in the regional premiere of "Groundhog Day: The Musical" at Aurora's Paramount Theatre from Jan. 26 to March 13.

    TV meteorologist Phil Connors (Alex Syiek), center, is flanked by his producer, Rita (Phoebe González), and Punxsutawney Phil (Jake Morrissy) in the regional premiere of "Groundhog Day: The Musical" at Aurora's Paramount Theatre from Jan. 26 to March 13. Courtesy of Thomas J. King, Paramount Theatre

 
 
Posted1/20/2022 11:18 AM

Paramount Theatre artistic director Jim Corti is curious how local audiences will interpret "Groundhog Day: The Musical" -- especially in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The critically acclaimed 2016 stage adaptation of the beloved 1993 fantasy film comedy "Groundhog Day" receives its Midwest premiere in Aurora from Jan. 26 to March 13. The pop-rock score is by "Matilda the Musical" composer Tim Minchin, and the stage script is by Dan Rubin (he co-authored the original "Groundhog Day" screenplay with the late filmmaker Harold Ramis).

 

"It's a very theatrical piece and a darn good adaptation of the movie," Corti said. "We're all intrigued by the sci-fi aspect of it."

The premise of "Groundhog Day" concerns a beleaguered TV meteorologist named Phil Connors who gets trapped in a time loop where he relives Feb. 2 on repeat. It's a parallel situation that a lot of people likened to their own lives while self-isolating at home during the initial coronavirus shutdown in 2020.

TV meteorologist Phil Connors (Alex Syiek), left, is taunted by Punxsutawney Phil (Jake Morrissy) in the regional premiere of "Groundhog Day: The Musical" at Aurora's Paramount Theatre.
TV meteorologist Phil Connors (Alex Syiek), left, is taunted by Punxsutawney Phil (Jake Morrissy) in the regional premiere of "Groundhog Day: The Musical" at Aurora's Paramount Theatre. - Courtesy of Thomas J. King, Paramount Theatre

"When we were all quarantining, you'd wake up and not know what day it was," Corti said. "There was this sameness, and it was amazing how people thought about their mental wellness and how they were going to cope."

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The coronavirus pandemic forced the Paramount to delay its originally planned winter 2021 run of "Groundhog Day." The theater had to find safer ways of hiring performers, too.

New York actor and songwriter Alex Syiek is making his Paramount debut as Phil Connors, and he's bemused about the all the technological assistance that went into casting.

"It was my first entirely virtual audition process," Syiek said. "The final callback was a Zoom interview-type deal."

Syiek is very aware that he has to contend with audience expectations of star Bill Murray in the original film. But as a huge fan of Minchin, Syiek is glad to have the Australian songwriter's help to make Phil Connors his own.

Punxsutawney Phil (Jake Morrissy), center, has a little fun with TV producer Rita (Phoebe González) and meteorologist Phil Connors (Alex Syiek) in Paramount's "Groundhog Day: The Musical."
Punxsutawney Phil (Jake Morrissy), center, has a little fun with TV producer Rita (Phoebe González) and meteorologist Phil Connors (Alex Syiek) in Paramount's "Groundhog Day: The Musical." - Courtesy of Thomas J. King, Paramount Theatre
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Through (Minchin's) songs, you really get into the minds of the characters," Syiek said. "You get a lot more of the velocity of what the situation is in this musical than what you have in the movie."

Corti adds that some audiences may find "Groundhog Day: The Musical" much darker than the film, especially in the way it approaches the issue of suicide. But Corti also emphasizes the musical's comedy and overall uplift at the end.

"I've read an article on how some Buddhists have embraced 'Groundhog Day' with its philosophy of being the change if you're in a rut," Corti said. "Don't expect anything from the outside to make a difference. You be the difference. You be the change."

Since "Groundhog Day" was filmed on location nearly 50 miles to the north in Woodstock, Corti hopes that crowds who turn out for that town's Groundhog Days festivities will also come to Aurora to see the show. Unfortunately, the Paramount "Groundhog Day" cast are not officially part of Woodstock's 2022 shadow announcement of more or less winter weather.

"Feb. 2 is the week of opening, and we will be in previews and rehearsals," Corti said. "We really couldn't ask the cast to get up before dawn and go to Woodstock and then work all day and night."

• • •

"Groundhog Day: The Musical"

Location: Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora, (630) 896-6666, paramountaurora.com

Showtimes: 1:30 and 7 p.m. Wednesday (no matinee Jan. 26), 7 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 26 through March 13

Tickets: $36-$79

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