Lighting Up Broadway’s Groundhog Day
Groundhog Day, the new musical based on the 1993 Bill Murray movie, is the story of Phil Connors, a cynical Pittsburgh TV weatherman who is sent to cover the annual Groundhog Day event in Punxsutawney, PA, when he finds himself caught in a time loop, forced to repeat the same day again and again… and again. The show’s clever staging includes some great visual trickery, which relies heavily on lighting. We got to chat with the show’s Assistant Lighting Designer, Jon Goldman, about his job and the importance of lighting in telling this story.
BI: How did you become involved with Groundhog Day?
JG: Joel Shier (who is the associate lighting designer at Groundhog Day) and I had worked on a few projects together, and he asked me if I was available to work on the Broadway production back in the summer of 2016. I love working with him and I jumped at the chance to work with our brilliant lighting designer Hugh Vanstone, who made it such a pleasure to come to work every day.
BI: Did you see the London production? Are there any similarities between the London version and the version on Broadway?
JG: I didn’t see the show in London, but I did watch archival videos to familiarize myself with the show. And while there have been quite a few adjustments and changes for Broadway, it’s largely the same show that it was originally at the Old Vic.
BI: Groundhog Day is a story that takes place over one repeated day. How did you and your team keep the scenic design interesting as the story repeats?
JG: The message in Groundhog Day is to learn to live your best day, and embrace the things in life that you’ve always taken for granted. Matthew, Rob and Hugh (our director, Set Designer, and Lighting Designer) developed this remarkable visual vocabulary that lets the audience see the show from a changing point of view as the show progresses. Sometimes they are small gestures, or ones that are obvious, but the entire picture is always precisely crafted so you’re never really looking at the same thing.
BI: Explain how important lighting is to the storytelling on stage.
JG: I think lighting designers are among the most important storytellers. Lighting helps make the audience far more emotionally engaged. Lighting can make people happy or sad, laugh or cry. It is such a multi-faceted field, and we have so much responsibility to not just the audience but the other designers of the show, the director, producers, etc. There is so much more to it than “on or off.”
BI: When did you decide to move to New York? Was there a specific moment or opportunity that contributed to your decision?
JG: I moved to NYC right after I graduated from UNCSA (University of North Carolina, School of the Arts) but I knew before I started high school that I wanted to be a lighting designer and work on Broadway. I knew I would end up here for a while, I just never changed my mind!
BI: What was the most challenging part about working on Groundhog Day?
JG: I think I’d have to say how cold it was in the theater every day! The costumes consisted mostly of winter clothes so the theater was kept pretty cold through the whole tech process, even though it was 20 degrees outside!
BI: Have you ever seen a lighting effect in a show that made you think, “Wow, I wish I had thought of that!”
JG: I always see things in shows that I find beautiful or clever—things that I would not have thought of myself. I think all designers are like that. We all learn something from one another.
Groundhog Day is part of the Broadway Collection, a group of amazing shows, events, and companies on Broadway and around NYC, specially selected for their popularity with domestic and international visitors. Book tickets to see this hilarious and delightful musical by visiting the show page.