Hello Dolly vs. Groundhog Day: the Classic Musical vs. the Classless One

Whenever I visit New York, two items are always at the top of my to-do list:  eat fantastic food and see exciting Broadway musicals.   The food rarely disappoints (Peter Lugar Steakhouse and Katz Delicatessen); it’s the musicals that sometimes can be a crapshoot. To hedge our bets, my wife and I try to see one classic and one new one each trip so that at least the tried and true show will not fail.


This summer we went to see Tony Award winner Bette Midler in “Hello Dolly” which has received rave reviews since the revival opened in April.   Premiering in 1964, Jerry Herman’s classic remains so even 53 years later.   Hummable tunes, colorful costumes, imaginative lighting and set design, and a chorus of singers and dancers.


The new musical we saw was “Groundhog Day” based on the 1993 Bill Murray comedy about a man who keeps waking up to the same day over and over again.  Since our teenaged sons had seen the film, we thought this would get them excited to see the musical version.


Even though the film was rated PG, we live in the age of “The Book of Mormon” so I researched “Groundhog Day” to make sure it would be appropriate for my kids.


After multiple sources verified it as family-friendly, I bought the tickets.


Anytime I am about to attend a live performance of a musical or an opera, I listen to a recording of it beforehand to get familiar with the story and the lyrics, and so I bought the “Groundhog Day” cast recording.


I knew I was in trouble when in the second number “erection” was used.   The language went down from there, literally and figuratively.  The producers turned a PG film into an R-rated live performance.  Finding a clean piece of entertainment these days is as hard as finding a piece of watermelon that actually has a taste.


In addition to the requisite four-letter words that a modern piece of entertainment can’t be without, here is a partial list of the sexual and scatological references that are put to music:   nipples, pubic hair, masturbation, foreskin, enemas, semen, defecating in one’s pants and swallowing vomit.


It was as if the composer was paid by the number of off-color word and bodily functions he could fit in a Broadway show.


Hardly any of the 17 songs were clean, or memorable for that matter.  I’m sorry, but hearing pretty voices sing ugly words does not sound good.  All the parts of the body in the key of C doesn’t change the fact that they are singing dirty words.  Also, it does not reflect well on the composer who goes in the gutter for rhymes instead of creating more imaginative word choices.


The filthy language also will date this musical quite quickly.


Clearly, what I consider family-friendly and others differs greatly.  Just this week Times columnist Bill Plaschke wrote a piece on an 85-year-old grandmother who once she saw herself dancing on the huge video screen at Dodger Stadium, decided to pull up her shirt and flash her breasts (thankfully in a bra).  To me, that behavior should not be cheered, yet I recognize I may be in the minority.


Meanwhile, “Hello Dolly” without the obscenities remains timeless.  And that is why it is a classic. “Put on Your Sunday Clothes,” “Before the Parade Passes By,” “It Only Takes a Moment,” and the title song stay in your mind long after leaving the theater.


I doubt that in 2037 there will be a revival of “Groundhog Day.”  Unlike the main character who continues to relive Feb. 2, no one should relive this musical.

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