Well, that was a surprise. I gotta say: I was wary going into ROCKY – and admittedly even remained so on and off throughout Act I – but man oh man, this new musical may be the shock winner of the season. I think you all need to prepare yourselves for a whole lot of “ROCKY is a Knock-Out” headlines.
Before I dive into the details, let me get this out of the way first: I have never seen the movie. I know! I know! None of them! I should get on that stat. I think it gave me a unique perspective though, since I would guess most people attending know the films quite well.
Act I is relatively solid. There is a lot of exposition to cover, and it takes a little time to find its groove, but things kick into gear with Adrian’s first big song, “Raining.” For me though, Act II is where the show totally takes off. It’s non-stop, high energy, and reaches ultimate entertainment value. And have no fear – it includes all of the iconic moments you would expect from a Rocky musical. The training montages are kick-ass. There are Rockys everywhere! Instead of multiple Phantoms crossing bridges or lots of Spidermen flying across the stage, now you get Rockys in grey sweats. Also, the projections of the streets of Philadelphia as he trains are great and manage not to go overboard – what Ghost the Musical was trying to do and failed. Ghost looked over-produced whereas this just looks cool. Cool is key if you’re going to put Rocky Balboa in musical format. Who knew they could successfully make that character sing?
The leads are very strong. There’s the always-reliable Andy Karl in the title role. You may have seen Andy in The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Jersey Boys, or perhaps as the UPS guy in Legally Blonde, to name a few. But this is his first “carrying-the-show” role. He plays a reserved, tough Rocky and doesn’t make a parody out of the iconic Sly impression. He makes it his own yet still honors certain aspects of Stallone’s performance. And then you have Margo Seibert making her exciting Broadway debut as Adrian. And damn, this girl can sing. Here’s an inside look at both the stars and the show itself.
The book was co-written by Stallone and Thomas Meehan (whose award-winning work includes Annie, The Producers, and Hairspray). The new score is written by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, the Tony-winning writing team of Ragtime, A Man of No Importance, and Once on This Island. Or perhaps you’re a fan of the animated film, Anastasia (I sure am). The ROCKY score is full of power ballads, sweet duets, and everyone’s favorite pump-up song, “Eye of the Tiger.” And of course there’s the man of the hour, director Alex Timbers, who returns to Broadway with yet another innovative experiment in new theatricality.
I so want to tell you about what they do for the big fight in the end, but I don’t think it would be fair of me to spoil it. Just know this: it’s awesome. I’ve never seen anything like this in a theatre. It’s excellently choreographed and packed with fantastic lighting and super cool effects. The last 20 minutes were so exhilarating that Matt and I ran out of the theatre with the beat thumping in our heads and our hearts racing. The audience was so worked up by the 15th round that we were all cheering together on the literal edges of our seats. I was practically on my feet shouting “Adrian” too.
This production may just be the punch Broadway doesn’t see coming. Go see it!
Music by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, Book by Thomas Meehan and Sylvester Stallone, Directed by Alex Timbers
Winter Garden Theatre, Opening March 13th
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy
Pictured: Andy Karl and Terence Archie