The new Broadway musical “Groundhog Day,” nominated for seven Tony Awards, takes place at the same time and place as the 1993 film: It’s frigid February Punxsuatawney, Pa., with a blizzard rolling in.
The townspeople are wearing snow boots, coats and ski pants, but that doesn’t stop them from a classic tap dance.
This tap number, though, is not about traditional razzle-dazzle, said co-choreographer Ellen Kane, who created the dance with Peter Darling, the Tony Award-winning choreographer of “Billy Elliot,” as well as “Matilda.”
The scene is structured so the audience follows the cynical weather man Phil Connors, played by Andy Karl, rushing around town doing good deeds, trying escape the time loop he’s trapped in.
Connors speedily gives the sheriff a new gun holder, saves a woman on a ladder, protects a bystander from snow balls and more.
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The smiling townspeople — sweating in their heavy outfits — are tapping around, propelling the scene with a percussive tick-tock sound that reflects the show’s theme of time.
“We needed to use them as the heart beat of the town,” said Kane. “There are breaks that allow you see them tap dancing, but it’s structured so you see the ensemble deliver the next event.”
Tap dancing in heavy snow boots sounds impossible, and Kane took the bulky gear into consideration: “We didn’t do flashy steps.”
But the real challenge was that many of the actors had never tap danced before. The ensemble members, about 14 people, were hired as character actors, not dancers. Auditions did include some tap, but requirements were at a minimum.
“If they could keep rhythm or alternate with another person, that was enough to be able to do it,” Kane said.
As for the star, Karl himself isn’t dancing. He’s busy doing good deeds,
“It’s not actually dance what you see him doing,” said Kane. “He’s saving the day.”
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