New York City Theater
Winter Garden Theater
Wait for it. Here it comes. Bam! Biff! Smack!
That’s the climax of “Rocky” the musical, a sweaty, choreographed, exciting boxing match between the title character and world champion Apollo Creed. Can Rocky last 15 rounds with the champ? Can he regain his confidence? Can he win the girl? Will the sun rise tomorrow?
The battle highlights the wholly unnecessary musicalization of the Oscar-winning movie about a misfit would-be boxer, impossibly in love with a misfit girl, yearning to make his mark in a business that would as soon knock your block off as give you a dime. You see, sensitive, kind-hearted Rocky (he has pet turtles) is reduced to collecting debts for a local loan shark. Pay up or get your hand busted.
But Rocky is too gentle to follow through on the rough stuff. A man with dreams, he’s the kind of schnook who can’t understand why his gym locker is taken away from him. Is he washed up before he even gets into the shower?
The audience, most of whom have probably seen the film, gets its greatest jollies when the stage show apes the flick. Especially the training – running the streets of Philly, racing up the museum steps and so on – excites theatergoers. With several Rocky figures racing about the stage, we get a kaleidoscope of sweat and guts.
The libretto is credited to Sylvester Stallone, who wrote and starred in the original series of “Rocky” films, and to Thomas Meehan who did a much better transference job with “The Producers” and “Hairspray.” Director Alex Timbers keeps the adrenaline flowing, considerably abetted by choreographers Steven Hoggett and Kelly Devine, as well as by Christopher Barreca’s sensational set design.
Wisely, the creators incorporate two numbers familiar from the movie. “Gonna Fly Now (Theme from ‘Rocky’”) and “Eye of the Tiger” reinforce the screen-to-stage connection. The other songs are by Stephen Flaherty (music) and Lynn Ahrens (lyrics) who gave us more idiosyncratic scores with “Ragtime” and “Once on This Island.” Here the songs play like interruptions.
As Rocky, Andy Karl is ingratiating and unsentimental. He certainly looks as if he could go 15 rounds. Push-pulling for his loyalty are Margo Seibert as Adran, his g.f. Adrian and Terence Archie as his pugilistic opponent, both fine. Danny Mastrogiorgio is a properly insufferable Paulie but it’s the wonderful Dakin Matthews as non-nonsense manager Mickey who garners the most interest.
What might have been a satire on the price of celebrity and fame or, at least, a send-up of the American dream (all those patriotic costumes on Apollo and his followers) is boiled down to a pumped-up shouting fest, preceded by lame jokes and clichés. The appeal is for those who haven’t had enough of “Rocky” and its sequels.
--David A. Rosenberg
March 23, 2014