Three men sit in a row at a bar turned into a car. On the right, Phil Conners is driving. Beer bottles sit before them.
Groundhog Day: The Musical at Paramount Theatre in Aurora Credit: Liz Lauren

What musical could possibly capture our collective pandemic ennui? Perhaps a story about reliving the same gray day without surcease, surrounded by the same irritating people, with all your best intentions of self-improvement adding up to naught? BING! Welcome to Groundhog Day: The Musical

Based on the 1993 Harold Ramis film, this 2017 show (book by Danny Rubin, music and lyrics by Tim Minchin—the latter also wrote the score for Matilda the Musical) isn’t afraid of the dark. Unlike the suicide montage in the film, we only see one of the many attempts dyspeptic weatherman Phil Connors (Alex Syiek) makes on his life after realizing he’s trapped in “déjà vu all over again.” (Instead, he lists them in a quick rundown reminiscent of Dorothy Parker’s poem “Résumé.”) But that one attempt, though it doesn’t bring finality, does transform the Paramount stage and cast in somber monochromatic tones—a departure from the bright and perky Punxsutawney that mostly dominates the first act. (Tellingly, only Phoebe González’s Rita Hanson, Phil’s associate producer and object of his affections, still pops in her bright-blue coat—a harbinger of hope and warmth.)

Groundhog Day: The Musical
Through 3/13: Wed 1:30 and 7 PM, Thu 7 PM, Fri 8 PM, Sat 3 and 8 PM, Sun 1 and 5:30 PM, Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena, Aurora, 630-896-6666, paramountaurora.com, $38-$79.

The supporting characters also get more depth to them, particularly annoying insurance salesman Ned Ryerson (Kyle Adams), who carries sharp grief hidden beneath his grinning goofus exterior, until it comes out in the chilling and poignant second-act song, “Night Will Come.” (“On and on and on, you stumble on / Towards the fading sun / Turn a blind eye, fight or run / Rest assured, the night will come.”) Nancy Taylor (Haley Jane Schafer), the one-night stand set up by Phil’s callous manipulations, doesn’t exactly have a moment of liberation in “Playing Nancy,” but at least we see that she’s wise to the trade-offs she’s made.

Jim Corti’s production honors both the dark and the light in the show, even as some of the narrative repetitions in the first act bog it down a bit. Courtney O’Neill’s set, a geodesic dome from which set pieces pop out, has echoes of both M.C. Escher and the pandemic “igloos” outside restaurants, while also providing a cunning backdrop for Mike Tutaj’s evocative projections. Syiek may not have the same pungent acidic undertones mixed with vulnerability that Murray brought to the original (I’m not sure anyone could capture that other than Murray, honestly), but he wisely avoids imitation and also doesn’t push too hard to make us like Phil. The creators of the musical and this production both clearly understand that Phil’s redemption needs to be earned. (It helps that González’s Rita has a bit more spikiness of her own than Andie MacDowell’s version.)

By the end of the show, we feel like Phil isn’t the only one who has looked death, boredom, and all the other existential terrors of being human in the teeth, and realized (if only for a moment) that forecasting life is a fool’s errand. All we can do is live through it.