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A scene from 'Groundhog Day The Musical'.
Photograph: Supplied/GWB Entertainment

'Groundhog Day the Musical' is a wake up call for culture lovers to visit Melbourne

They’re not bluffing, it really is a Melbourne exclusive! We sussed out why 'Groundhog Day' is worth the trip + more summer picks for arts and culture lovers

Alannah Le Cross
Written by
Alannah Le Cross

Whether you're a big fan of musical theatre or someone who loathes musicals (or so you think) you will want to beg, borrow or steal to get your arse to Melbourne for the Australian premiere of Groundhog Day the Musical (playing until April 7). They’re not trying to pull one over on you either, this show is seriously a Melbourne exclusive – after its strictly limited 13-week season, the production is heading back overseas. So whether you’re a fan of the original flick or you’re staunchly opposed to it (so you think), it’s time to get booking. 

What’s the big deal with Groundhog Day the Musical?

Described by its composer and lyricist, Australia’s own Tim Minchin, as sort of like “Matilda for grownups”, Groundhog Day also has a similar appeal as The Book of Mormon – in that its hilarity and overall brilliance has the power to draw in audiences who wouldn’t usually be tempted by musical theatre. Groundhog Day the Musical turns out some spectacular theatrical antics and witty comedy inspired by the cult 1993 movie of the same name (and it's from the pen of the same writer, Danny Rubin). This is the story of a cynical weatherman who finds himself doomed to relive the same average-at-best day over and over again, unable to ever leave the small town where he was sent for an eye-rolling assignment involving an indentured creature that’s “not quite a squirrel or a beaver”. We witness this jerk’s ultimately reformative journey, and ruminate on what it means to live a good life along the way. Read more in Time Out Melbourne’s five-star review

Tim Minchin, Andy Karl and Elise McCann for Groundhog Day the Musical in Melbourne
Photograph: Supplied/Carmen Zammit | Elise McCann, Tim Minchin and Andy Karl outside the Princess Theatre

I was lucky enough to attend the premiere, and as a cynical critic and Sydney loyalist with a low tolerance for stories about reformed wankers, believe me when I tell you that I am nuts for this show! If you aren’t already sold by all of that and the chance to see inimitable Broadway and West End star Andy Karl in the title role (which he originated) alongside a stellar Aussie cast, you should know that this musical is also your excuse to scope out the spectacular Princess Theatre, one of the nation’s oldest and prettiest theatre houses. With great bars and restaurants nearby (which I scouted out thanks to some knowledgeable locals), you can make a whole evening of it, too. 

There’s also no need to rush out of the Victorian capital (and its considerable lack of humidity compared to Sydney) though, as there are many more reasons to tempt culture lovers over for a visit. I took a look around, and here are my recommendations. 

Where to eat and drink before and after a show at the Princess Theatre

You’ll want some dinner in your stomach before you settle in for all two-and-a-half hours (including interval) of Groundhog Day, but before that you might as well get a good run up on the evening with a pre-show cocktail. Set the mood to get whisked away on a theatrical evening with a visit to Caretaker’s Cottage (139-141 Little Lonsdale St) – this beloved bar has taken up residence in a pint-sized heritage church cottage nestled amongst skyscrapers. While the outside says 'Gothic Revival architecture', the inside says 'intimate house party at your parents’ cool friend’s house'. The charming bartenders here pour frosty Martinis that will restore your faith in the classic cocktail, as well as some more experimental numbers and a carefully selected wine list. 

Behind the bar there is a built in vinyl player, a collection of records and a backlit bar with bottles
Photograph: Supplied/Caretaker's Cottage

Once your whistle is wet, you’re only a short walk from Bossley Bar and Restaurant (186 Exhibition St), where the seasonal pre-theatre dinner menu means you don’t need to compromise on quality when it comes to filling up before curtain call. A short walk from the Princess Theatre, Comedy Theatre and Her Majesty’s Theatre, you can pick between two or three courses (starting at $68) including stand-out starters like Hiramasa Kingfish thinly sliced and served with a fresh and zingy combo of blood orange, Yarra Valley salmon roe, chives and lime; and larger plates like duck and chorizo ragu with fresh fettuccine. 

The foundations have been laid to enjoy the show without being too full, too hungry or too tiddly – but the best nights at the theatre involve a hearty post-show debrief. A hop and a skip from the Princess, you’ll find the unpretentious embrace of Spleen Bar (41 Bourke St). Bathed in a red neon glow and filled with plenty of booths and nooks for dissecting the plot and hearty gossiping, the friendly staff here will help you select the perfect pour from the wine list (or the beer taps). Settle in, this place is open ‘til 5am (Monday through Saturday) and they have late-night snacks including a popular selection of jaffles and nostalgic dim-sims to sustain you (without blowing out your budget).

Melbourne's most unmissable events for culture lovers 

From robot dogs to classical oil paintings, Tracey Emin to Yoko Ono, you could spend an entire day absorbed in the NGV Triennial. Open to visitors until April 7, 2024, the exhibition features diverse work from 100 artists, designers and collectives. Think of it like Melbourne's answer to the Biennale of Sydney, except it sprawls across four floors of one absolutely enormous state of the art gallery, the NGV International. Our tip is to head straight up to the highest exhibition floor on arrival and work your way down, meandering through contemporary art installations mixed and matched with classical and archival pieces from the gallery's collection. RuPaul’s Drag Race fans will want to get a close-up look at glittering handmade costumes by Raja Gemini, and you also simply cannot skip Maurizio Catelan’s ‘Comedian’ – while not the most visually spectacular, it certainly the most talked about artwork of the Triennial, consisting of nothing more than a banana that has been taped to the gallery wall. Also yep, there is no entry fee for the Triennial (which really is all the validation you need to make a frivolous purchase in the gift shop). 

 Installation view of Farrokh Mahdavi's 'Untitled'
Photograph: Supplied/NGV International | Installation view of Farrokh Mahdavi's 'Untitled'

All aboard! Over at the Melbourne Museum (home to the most complete Triceratops skeleton in the world) the much talked about Titanic: The Artefact Exhibition has docked until April 14, 2024. First and foremost, there is a really neat photo op with a recreation of the ornate staircase from the ship's ballroom, as inspired by the iconic scene from James Cameron's 1997 blockbuster movie (in which the strapping young Leonardo DiCaprio as Jack steps out in a tux for the first time, much to the delight of Kate Winslet's smitten Rose). However, this historical exhibition goes much deeper than a shallow "immersive" display designed for snapping selfies. In addition to meticulous recreations of the ship’s interiors, this informative exhibition involves a collection of more than 200 artefacts which have been uncovered from the wreck of the Titanic. Diehard Titanic fanatics will be delighted, and the rest of us will leave feeling enlightened about just why this cruise ship was so historic, and the breadth of the disaster which sank this “unsinkable” vessel. (Feeling fancy? Pair your visit with Melbourne Museum’s Titanic High Tea Experience.)

I'll add, Titanic: The Artefact Exhibition does not make a gawking spectacle of this unparalleled maritime tragedy nor does it err too far into tragedy porn – instead, it treats the 2,240 people who were on board (of which, only 706 survived) with humanity and compassion. I will forever be affected by the knowledge that not one of the musicians employed aboard the Titanic survived the disaster. As contracted employees, they were not factored in as passengers or as crew as the lifeboats were loaded, and they were simply left behind – tasked with playing cheerful songs to calm the panicked crowds.

The grand staircase inside the Titanic.
Photograph: Supplied/Melbourne Museum | Installation view of 'Titanic: The Artefact Exhibition;

Want to double-dip on Melbourne’s best theatre while you’re in town? Check out what Melbourne Theatre Company is up to (Seventeen is playing ‘til February 17, 2024, in which veteran actors embody teenagers). If a theatre’s architecture is a drawcard for you, suss out what’s playing next door to the NGV at Hamer Hall, and admire the building’s curves and lush red velvet interiors while you’re at it. In the mood for something indie and intimate? The city’s home of cabaret, The Butterfly Club is a kitschy little theatre where there’s always something interesting and offbeat going on. 

It's all enough to put a twinkle in the eye of any Sydney loyalist (but, we’ll add, not enough to permanently rip us away from all the culture that Sydney has to offer – and Sydney’s beautiful beaches to boot!).


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