Broadway Danny goes!

Broadway Danny goes!

Brigit Grant meets the man who gave us Groundhog Day as the sell-out musical heads to the States.

Brigit Grant is the Jewish News Supplements Editor

Danny Rubin
Danny Rubin

With only eight days left until Groundhog Day the Musical closes at the Old Vic and heads for Broadway, stealing a ticket is the only way to see the sell-out show. Danny Rubin wouldn’t hesitate as he hates the idea of anyone missing the show – and not just because he wrote it.

“It’s because it’s just so so good,” enthuses the Jewish screen writer who 23 years ago penned a film about a weatherman visiting the town of Punxsutawney to have the worst day of his life – over…. and over again.

“I never had any doubts that it was going to work as I’d always wanted Groundhog Day to take some other form and a musical was the most obvious. But the finished result exceeded all expectations and I just can’t stop listening to the score – just the orchestration of the chorus alone is incredible and I have now seen it multiple times.”

Bringing his mother, sister and wife Louise to London for the opening night in August was one of those “pinch me” moments for Danny even though he didn’t know  most of the people he was introduced to. “I was talking to this very nice guy for a while who told me how much he had enjoyed the show and when I later queried his identity discovered he was Sir Andrew Lloyd-Webber. I’m such a neophyte – though I did recognise Tom Stoppard who was very complimentary.”

Groundhog Dayl's Andy Karl
Groundhog Day’s Andy Karl

The notion of a musical based on Groundhog Day had always been in Danny’s head and he had been slowly writing a draft book as well as scratching out some lyrics of his own.

“I’ve always written songs and when I started out in Chicago used to perform in coffee bars, but I never went down the music route and knew I needed to collaborate with a composer.”

To up his game ahead of such a possibility Danny met lots of composers, directors and actors to learn the language of musicals, but  a call from Matthew Warchus in London who had directed Tim Minchin’s Matilda was the kickstart.

“That first meeting four years ago was like a Tinder date as we tried to work out whether we wanted to work together,” recalls Tim, but Danny had no doubts. “I’d seen Matilda and loved the tone of it and felt Matthew and Tim would bring their best to the show which was very close to my heart.”

Brigit with Tim Minchin
Brigit with Tim Minchin

This is an understatement as Danny, who was born in San Francisco had struggled to sell his original movie script and hauled the comedic tale about immortality in small town America to more than 50 Hollywood studio executives who loved it, but didn’t want to make it.

Fortunately Ghostbusters director Harold Ramis did and brought Bill Murray and Andie Macdowell to the production which opened to tepid reviews, but grew in popularity –notably in England and Germany – which turned it into a cult classic.

“Word began to reach me that the film’s universal theme lead to psychologists recommending it to their patients and ‘Groundhog Day in Buddhism’ became a serious subject at Buddhist conventions,” laughs Danny.

Clearly the idea of endlessly reliving the worst day of one’s life only for it to become the best struck a chord with millions, though the experience is not one that appeals to Danny. And not even if it was with a hot girl in the Virgin Islands.

“I don’t think of things that way and would never want to go back and repeat a day however good,” he insists. “Every day is an opportunity to do something great. I was just curious about whether one lifetime was enough as an idea. There are some people, those arrested development type men who can’t really outgrow their adolescence and I thought, well, maybe one lifetime isn’t enough.  Maybe some people need more.”

Danny Rubin grew up in the sort of Jewish family seldom seen on screen due to the absence of conflict. “It was a mutually supportive love fest,” he says and describes how his father, an ophthalmologist and mother, a publisher hosted musical soirees, collected photography and generally created a buzz in suburban Gainesville, Florida.

“My dad had been raised orthodox in San Fran and could have gone to a yeshiva, but he found out dancing with girls at the YMCA was more fun and that lobster was delicious. But we still did the blessings on Shabbat, kept the major holidays and as a teenager I was very involved in B’nai B’rith, attending all the regional and international conferences. It was a very social group lead by a guy who was one of those deconstructionist Jews who mixed rituals with a sense of relevance that came out of the 1960’s and 70’s. We would create our services and make our Judaism relevant to ourselves.”

Running concurrently with this enthusiasm for his faith was Danny’s passion to pursue everything he could creatively at once. He already had a BA from Brown University and an MA from North Western but

“I was just waiting for something to choose me. And it did during my twenties when I was living in Chicago and applied for a production assistant  internship at WTTW. One of the producers called me back and said: ‘You don’t want to be a production assistant. Look at your application, it’s really well-written. You should say that you’re a writer.’”

If Danny Rubin’s story was a film, they would probably miss out the bit about him writing industrial films and working in kids TV and skip straight to the point where his wife Louise suggests they move to Los Angeles and then fade to meeting maestro Tim Minchin for the first time.

“Ours was the best relationship ever,” says Danny who invited Tim to his daughter, Maida’s wedding last weekend. “We discovered we had similar sensibilities and working with him was fun too, just sitting and listening to what he could do with his musical language. I like to think my background made me competent enough to be in the same room.”

Groundhog day musical's Andy Karl
Groundhog day musical’s Andy Karl

For the move to Broadway from The Old Vic, Jewish American stage-star Andy Karl who plays Phil the weatherman will be the only member of the cast to remain, though Danny is vague about when all the rehearsals and such will start.

“I’ve sort of done my bit and now I have to leave them to get on with it, “says Danny who can’t deny that seeing his name in lights on Broadway will be a thrill. “My friend Bruce (Joel Rubin) who wrote Ghost which became a musical told me I have to enjoy every single experience generated by this musical and accept every invite and I intend to.”

What Danny does next is still in it’s infancy as he admits, “ I’m not insanely motivated to keep producing the next best thing, just so long as I’m not entirely forgotten by the world.” The UK reaction to Groundhog Day suggests that won’t happen and Danny will be bathing in  the glory for many days to come – and all of them different.


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