Rocky brings to life the story of struggling small time Philly boxer, Rocky Balboa, who gets a once-in-a-lifetime shot to go the distance against heavyweight champ Apollo Creed. The new musical is based on the Academy Award-winning film of the same name, which starred co-librettist Sylvester Stallone in the title role.
Press / Reviews
May 3, 2017
We’ve caught Tony fever here at BroadwayWorld, and it’s spreading! Follow us on BWW throughout the day, as we’ll bring you Tony nominee reactions, exclusive reports, surprises, behind the scenes coverage and oh, so much more! Read more…
May 2, 2017
The wait is over! The list of 2017 Tony nominees is in. We’re chatting with the members of the illustrious short list to hear their first reactions to the big news. Look below at some of the responses, and keep checking as more come pouring in. Read more…
Ben Platt is the star of the new Broadway show, “Dear Evan Hansen,” where he plays the title role of an anxious, socially-awkward high school student with no friends, which has opened to rave reviews. Click below to see video
With the Broadway season getting especially busy, we’re here to offer monthly help on what you should see in New York. Here, the New York Times theater critic Charles Isherwood offers a look at two adventurous new musicals soon to open and a revival he calls pretty much “perfect.” There’s more: a chance to see Sutton Foster kick up her heels, and a bold take on Shakespeare’s history plays. Read more…
Mar 14, 2014
ROCKY IS going to run for years on Broadway. How do we know? At a recent preview performance at Broadway’s Winter Garden Theatre, the (seemingly sold-out) audience went wild when Andy Karl, playing fictional Philly palooka Rocky Balboa, drained two raw eggs into a glass.
That’s right. Hundreds of people – most of them adults – went bananas over a couple of cracked eggs. And that’s pretty much all you need to know about the $20 million extravaganza that officially opened last night.
Not that the painstakingly middlebrow musical rendering of Sylvester Stallone’s beloved 1976 low-budget film doesn’t deserve a long, healthy life along the Great White Way. Despite a few annoying flaws, “Rocky” is a rousing, feel-good spectacle obviously designed to push every button a theatergoer wants pushed. Make no mistake: “Rocky” is sentimental and schmaltzy and big-hearted; there is no pretense of anything else.
Book authors Stallone and Thomas Meehan (“Annie,” “The Producers”) stuck pretty much to the original script for their stage adaptation. The story unfolds in a manner parallel to that of the flick, following the title character’s arc from his days as a going-nowhere club fighter/loan-shark collector to his climactic world championship bout with the Muhammad Ali-esque Apollo Creed.
About the biggest departure is the rather perplexing gifting of the sad-sack Paulie with an extremely hot girlfriend, who now is the owner of the pet shop where Rocky’s romantic obsession, Adrian, is employed. But those changes are little more than minor distractions. So right off the bat, there’s the knowledge that fans of the movie aren’t in for any major surprises.
The-still-set-in-the-mid-’70s “Rocky” operates at a very high level on just about every front. The score by composer Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens is somewhat generic, but ably covers a variety of formats including funk, R&B and arena-rock power balladry. But, in the established manner of modern-day musical theater, the songs function primarily as sung dialogue and exposition (sorry, but I’m not hearing Michael Buble interpreting “My Nose Ain’t Broken”). But that doesn’t mean the score doesn’t serve the plot extremely well, with Rocky’s “Fight From the Heart” and “Keep on Standing,” and Adrian’s “I’m Done” the early favorites to be the show’s sonic calling cards.
While the entire cast is first-rate, there’s no question the show lives or dies on the work of the impressively buff Karl.
Taking on such an iconic and deeply-ingrained character is a courageous, if somewhat dangerous, move. Stallone’s characterization is so rooted in our collective consciousness that it would be easy for Karl to hang Rocky’s beat-up fedora on mere impersonation. But the Broadway vet (“Legally Blonde,” “Jersey Boys”) manages the near-impossible: He pays homage to Stallone’s prototype but makes the character his own. He’s not Stallone, but he is Rocky. That means he should start working on his acceptance speech for his inevitable Best Actor in a Musical Tony Award.
Of course, there is no Rocky without Adrian, the mousy spinster to whom Rocky devotes his love and life. Margo Seibert likewise takes the celluloid template and adjusts it to fit. And there is enough chemistry between the two leads to make their romance credible.
In key supporting roles, Terence Archie as the bombastic, swaggering Creed, Dakin Matthews as Mickey, Rocky’s wizened manager-trainer and Danny Mastrogiorgio as Paulie get the job done. But their participation is a tad problematic because none of the actors physically resemble their motion picture counterparts. Here, Creed is completely bald, Mickey is larger than Burgess Meredith (and has a belly to boot) and Mastrogiorgio is taller, slimmer and far more attractive than the character rendered by Burt Young in the movies.
But the bigger problem with this Paulie is that he is nowhere near the lowlife loser we’ve known and loved these many decades. That removes some of the hard edge this production probably could have used.
Despite the human elements, it’s likely some of the biggest buzz will be about the program’s astonishing staging, which certainly equals any technological marvels Broadway has seen to date. We don’t want to give away too much, but suffice it to say Rocky’s signature runs through the Italian Market and up the art museum steps (which also received their own roar of applause) are satisfyingly portrayed.
But “Rocky” saves the best for last: The final 15 minutes or so feature the Balboa-Creed match staged on a boxing ring that replaces the first eight rows of seating. Those who hold tickets there are ushered to onstage bleachers. The “square circle” is sure to be this decade’s equivalent of the chandelier in “Phantom Of the Opera” or the barricade of “Les Miserables.”
However, it is to director Alex Timbers’ credit that the humanity that is the lifeblood of the “Rocky” tale is never overwhelmed by the technology. For all its bells and whistles, this remains a story of determination, redemption and, of course, true love.
Besides its many other charms, Rocky has to be the most “Philly” Broadway musical ever – a veritable love letter to us. As everything from the Spectrum, Rittenhouse Hotel and Frankford El to Snyder Avenue, St. Joseph’s Hospital and WPVI (6ABC) are represented and referenced, they should probably include a glossary in the Playbill for non-Delaware Valleyans (interestingly, the word “cheesesteak” is never uttered).
But as noted, this musical retelling of “Rocky” isn’t without its faults. Most egregious is the show’s reliance on the word “southside” when referring to Rocky’s ostensible South Philly home turf (it even appears in the title of the song, “Southside Celebrity”). The real joke, of course, is that the movie Rocky lived in Kensington.
And “Rocky” carries on the decadeslong showbiz tradition of actors who sound nothing like us portraying Philadelphians. As usual, what the cast probably honestly believes are legitimate Philly ack-sents comes off as watered-down New York patois. The exception is Kevin Del Aguila, who, in the small role of the skating rink watchman whom Rocky bribes for 10 minutes of Thanksgiving night ice time, actually sounds like he has more than a passing acquaintance with our mother tongue.
Finally, when the Winter Garden is transformed to suggest the Spectrum, banners are suspended from the ceiling. One trumpets the Flyers’ 1975 Stanley Cup win, which is fine. But the other commemorates the 76ers’ 1955 NBA world championship. Obviously, no one bothered to consult Google: Philadelphia’s NBA franchise in 1955 was the Warriors; the Sixers didn’t begin life until 1963. We mentioned that discrepancy to one of the show’s producer’s after the performance. We’ll see if it’s corrected.
But it’s only when so much is right about a play that pointing out such trivialities makes sense. And not only is “Rocky” so right, its left hook ain’t too shabby either.
In other words, “Rocky” is indeed a knockout.
Mar 13, 2014
Rocky’s got me hanging on the ropes.
There’s an old Hollywood taboo that says movies about boxing are box-office suicide. On the stage, where money is tight, space limitations prevent a third wall between the actors and the audience, and words and feelings are more important than movement, plays about sports are almost never even attempted–much less musicals (although even with its limitations, I remember enjoying Sammy Davis, Jr. in Golden Boy). Now comes the musical version of none other than Rocky, the movie that broke records, donning the gloves and ready to break them all over again.
Rocky is a smash hit that shows no sign of slowing down. It arrives with walls of awards and prizes from every corner, and blue-ribbon credentials for days. Sylvester Stallone, who wrote the original screenplay, is a producer and a collaborator on the book (with Thomas Meehan, who wrote Annie and The Producers). The rich and serviceable score is by the Tony winning songwriters Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens (Ragtime). And just as the movie and its numerous, dog-eared sequels turned Sylvester Stallone into some kind of scruffy stardom, the new singing, dancing, two-fisted Rocky repeats history with a sexy, dynamic, three-dimensional flesh-and-blood star named Andy Karl. He’s the biggest thing since Hugh Jackman, and as Rocky Balboa, the unlucky, downtrodden bum from the slums of Philly with a heart of molasses and the I.Q. of a mollusk, dreaming of being somebody in the eyes of the world even if fame is a one-night stand, he is very much the center of Rocky. He sings with power and persuasion–and surprisingly in tune. He dances in and out of the ring with complex precision. He looks like a movie star. He’s virile, he’s in command of the stage, he’s a one-man hormone explosion. He has charisma, a camera-ready physique from the cover of Today’s Health, and the kind of body language that leaves the audience transfixed from beginning to end. If Rocky ever ends, watch out for more big things from this guy. He is merely sensational.
He begins too old for the ring, barely eking out a day’s pay by supplementing his poverty collecting debts for a gang of thug. He’s got bruises, bloodstains and a black eye, but he’s also got pride. When he sings “My Nose Ain’t Broken Yet”, he’s the kind of gentle musclehead you just gotta root for. “Hang up the gloves, go to trade school, become a garage mechanic,” advises the cauliflower-eared has-been who eventually becomes his manager. After seven years at the gym, they even close down his locker to make room for younger guys. Hanging around his room at night, he’s a lonely bloke whose only companions are his pet turtles. But in a slick, low-key style that seems to be kidding Paddy Chayefsky’s Marty, Rocky meets Adrian (golden-voiced Margo Seibert), a mousy spinster who works in a pet shop. She sings about his “broken face, hardscrabble life and sad, brown eyes” and after one crush of Rocky’s biceps, Adrian throws away her glasses and starts shopping at Macy’s.
It’s 1976, America’s bicentennial, and a perfect time to give an underdog the chance to prove America’s motto that everyone is equal. Rocky gets his break when he’s recruited to fight the championship match against Apollo (Terence Archie), the indestructible, bullet-headed black heavyweight champion of the world. Act One ends with 29 days to the fight. The audience rushes in after the break, ready for bear, and the second act follows a series of training montages in which Rocky beefs up even more, through his first Christmas as a happy couple with Adrian, and it eventually culminates in the Big Event itself. The odds are against Rocky. Nobody’s ever gone 15 rounds against Apollo. But if he does win, there’s a $150,000 jackpot and proof forever that the guy is more than a loser. Well, no need to tell you how it all turns out. Is there anyone not forbidden by religious dogma to go to the movies who has never seen Rocky?
What I must tell you–and the best reason of all to see the musical–is that you have never experienced anything on a Broadway stage like the championship bout that brings the show to a screaming, tumultuous finale. Multi-media staging with live TV cameras projecting the action on giant screens. Film montages. All choreographed in slow motion while being simultaneously. You are catapulted into the next best thing to Madison Garden before you know what hit you. Under the massively coordinated direction of Alex Timbers, the vast orchestra of the Winter Garden Theatre empties, a crew removes the seats, and the audience is marched onstage while the place is transformed into an actual boxing match with the ring in the center, surrounded by stadium bleachers where the stage used to be! I can still hear the stomping, cheering “Bravos” ringing in my ears like Democrats on Election Night.
People who diss Rocky because it’s old-fashioned and predictable are right. It’s sort of a construction worker’s Raging Bull with Kleenex. But the people who love Rocky are right, too, because it’s likeable and decent in a basic way that makes you glow. You go away from Rocky hugely entertained, with a song in your soul and hope in your heart.
Mar 13, 2014
It’s been four decades since Sylvester Stallone turned himself into the unlikeliest of screen superstars by playing a small-time Philadelphia boxer who longs to be a contender. Now “Rocky,” a no-budget quickie that grossed $225 million, won the best-picture Oscar and spawned five sequels, has become a big-budget Broadway musical with a score by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (“Ragtime”) and a book co-written by Mr. Stallone and Thomas Meehan (“Annie,” “The Producers”). That’s a high-toned pedigree, especially for a musical based on a movie that the cognoscenti long ago wrote off as a lowbrow joke.
Let’s start, then, by stipulating that the film is excellent of its kind, a juicy cinematic cheesesteak that does exactly what it sets out to do. Pauline Kael got “Rocky” right when she deigned to admit that “its naïve, emotional shamelessness is funny and engaging.” ( John Simon liked it, too!) What’s more, the stage version, directed with immense panache and soaring physicality by Alex Timbers (“Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson”), is very nearly as good, an unpretentious slice of honest entertainment whose rock-’em-sock-’em finale will set the snobbiest of theatergoers to cheering in spite of themselves.
In the manner of most screen-to-stage musical-comedy adaptations, “Rocky” sticks closely, at times slavishly, to the source, with the best lines from Mr. Stallone’s screenplay incorporated more or less verbatim into the book (“I’ll carry him for a couple of rounds and then drop him in the third like a bad habit”). Likewise Andy Karl, the star, who does a baldly straightforward Stallone impersonation. (Not so Margo Seibert, a superior singer who succeeds in finding her own way into the character of Adrian, Rocky’s plain-Jane neighborhood girlfriend, who was played so well in the film by Talia Shire. ) Here, though, that’s not a complaint, for the faithfulness of the adaptation is also the source of its strength: Like the film, it gives you lots of what you want.
It helps that the rock-flavored songs, which in musicals of this sort typically prove to be an incapacitating impediment, are generally quite good, though I confess to having smiled at Mr. Karl’s big number, whose title is “My Nose Ain’t Broken.” The ballads are all heartfelt and irony-free, and one of them, “Raining,” is memorable: “I wonder if / He’ll be back again / With his broken face / And his hard-luck life / And his sad brown eyes.” (Ms. Seibert does it beautifully, by the way.) It stands to reason that Mr. Flaherty has chosen to weave Bill Conti’s Top-40 main-title theme into his own music for “Rocky,” but he’s done so with discretion, mostly using its melodic shapes as background leitmotifs.
Mr. Timbers’s staging and Christopher Barreca’s scenic design are the stuff Tony nominations are made of. The neon-and-graffiti mean streets of South Philly are portrayed with grim verisimilitude, but the glitz starts to fly as the climactic fight scene draws nearer, and the fight itself is a total-immersion, spare-no-expense stage spectacle. Since Steven Hoggett and Kelly Devine are jointly credited with the show’s choreography, I assume that they deserve much credit for the potency of this scene, which is a rich and masterly synthesis of movement, music and design.
So yes, “Rocky” is a straight-down-the-center commodity musical—but a damned fine one, maybe the best I’ve ever seen. A knockdown hit, in fact.