Murray moved by Groundhog Day musical

Actor Bill Murray (right) with Barrett Doss, lead actress in Groundhog Day, the Broadway musical based on Murray’s 1993 film.
Actor Bill Murray (right) with Barrett Doss, lead actress in Groundhog Day, the Broadway musical based on Murray’s 1993 film.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK • Bill? Bill Murray? There he was in the audience at the August Wilson Theater in New York City on Tuesday night, taking in a performance of Groundhog Day, the Broadway musical based on the 1993 movie he starred in.

It was the actor's first time seeing the musical and he was accompanied by his brother, Brian Doyle-Murray, who played Buster in the film, as well as Danny Rubin, a co-writer of the screenplay for the movie and the writer of the book for the musical.

Groundhog Day - the critically acclaimed comedy about a selfabsorbed weatherman, Phil Connors, who keeps repeating the same day over and over again in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania - is widely known as one of Murray's best films.

He exhibited a range of emotions throughout the night. At first, it was quirky one-liners to gleeful fans who suddenly recognised him. There were gestures and guffaws during the first act. But by the end of the performance, he was sobbing.

When he arrived, he went to the bar to get a glass of water. Bartender Janet Polanco offered him a bottle - but Murray wanted a glass and gave a US$50 (S$68) tip. Then he whispered: "This is too much for a glass of water."

He walked to his seat mostly unnoticed. One audience member told him he looked "taller and thinner". Murray responded: "Yeah, I've been working out."

Minutes later, he got a brief round of applause from the crowd. Once the show started, he immediately began bobbing his head to the music.

During a scene in which Ned Ryerson, a pushy insurance salesman, meets Phil (played by Andy Karl in the musical), Murray pumped his fist.

At intermission, he headed back to the bar to get a beer. On his way, he decided to climb over a woman in a mostly empty row, rather than walk up the aisle.

During the second act, he could be heard yelling, "Wow,", after a performance of Playing Nancy, sung by Rebecca Faulkenberry. By the time the cast was bowing on stage, he was in tears. He waited a minute to compose himself before joining the rest of the audience to cheer the cast.

Then he, Doyle-Murray and Rubin went backstage to greet the cast and take pictures.

Murray was clearly still moved by the show, telling conductor David Holcenberg: "It really killed me."

To Sean Montgomery, who played the sheriff, he said: "It was really beautiful. You got me. You really got me."

Eventually, he addressed the cast. "As actors, I can't respect enough how disciplined you are and how serving you are of the process," he said. "There's nothing worse than seeing someone that's out for themselves. And you are all in it for each other."

He had some suggestions.

"When you feel you don't know what to do, sing to the person next to you," he said. "And that person will sing to the person next to that person and then you will have this force that's even stronger."

In an interview afterwards, he said it was the message behind the story brought to life onstage that made him weep.

"The idea that...," he trailed off as he paused to collect his thoughts. "The idea that we just have to try again. We just have to try again. It's such a beautiful, powerful idea."

The movie was considered by many critics to be a comic masterpiece. It became an oft-quoted classic and added another strong showing to the partnership of Murray and Harold Ramis, the film's director.

The men had collaborated on Meatballs (1979), Caddyshack (1980) and Ghostbusters (1984).

They clashed often during filming about the direction of Groundhog Day and did not speak for decades afterwards. They never worked together again.

Ramis died in 2014 of complications from autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis.

"They were pretty far apart on what the movie was about - Bill wanted it to be more philosophical and Harold kept reminding him it was a comedy," Rubin told The New Yorker in 2004.

When asked what Ramis would have thought of the musical, Murray did not skip a beat. "I think he would've been flabbergasted," he said. "Brian and I are flabbergasted. It's really something."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 11, 2017, with the headline 'Murray moved by Groundhog Day musical'. Print Edition | Subscribe