Rocky Stage Adaptation Packs a Knockout Punch Apr04

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Rocky Stage Adaptation Packs a Knockout Punch

Rocky the musical?

 Margo Seibert and Andy Karl. Photo: Matthew Murphy


Margo Seibert and Andy Karl.
Photo: Matthew Murphy

If you are a fan of the 1976 movie starring Sylvester Stallone and Talia Shire like I am, you probably were putting on your boxing gloves and ready to challenge anyone who was going to mess with the story when you heard they were turning it into a Broadway musical. I know I was.

But I should have knownn I could trust Director Alex Timbers. I have loved everything this guy has helmed from Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, to  Here Lies Love to Peter and the Starcatcher, so I should have know that if anyone could make Rocky go 15 round son the stage, it would be he. He doesn’t disappoint.

Stallone himself co-wrote the book with Thomas Meehan and they have added depth and dimension to some  characters while sticking close to the original film script, And the staging, with video design by Don Scully and  and scenic design by Christopher Barreco is a knockout. And that’s before you hear the score by Stephen Flaherty (Ragtime) with orchestrations Stephen Trask and Doug Besterman that incorporate just enough of the “Rocky” themes from the movie to satisfy.

Andy Karl stars as Rocky Balboa, a down-on-his-luck, second-rate heavyweight boxer from Phillie who gets by being a strongman for mobster Gazzo (Eric Anderson). He gets a second chance when world heavyweight champ, Apollo Creed (Terence Archie), selects him for a gimmicky bout for the crown — mostly because of Rock’y’s catchy nickname: The Italian Stallion. Karl sounds a lot like Stallone and looks like him in costumes designed by David Zinn.

Rocky begins his training (yes, the eggs and the stairs are in there, movie fans, and even bring applause) and a romance with Adrian (Margo Seibert), the very shy, introverted sister of Paulie (Danny Mastrogiorgio), his meatpacking plant worker friend who looks and sounds a lot like Shire. ). Mastrogiorgio is the only miscast actor among the bunch. Helping Rocky train  is Mickey (Dakin Matthews), the crotchety, old manager of the gym who previously had thought Rocky was washed up. This championship bout is Mickey’s ticket to the big time too.

And what a bout it is. The fighters parade down the house aisles in a theater that is transformed into the Philadelphia Spectrum, complete with  Flyers hockey banners and a Jumbotron. A portion of the audience relocates to stage seating and two audience sections stand cheering in the corners for their boxer. The rest of the audience is ringside as the staging moves out into the house and rotates. It’s as nail-biting as the movie as the two boxers battle to stay standing through 15 rounds.

Choreography is by Steven Hoggett and Kelly Devine.Slow-motion technique and video projections designed by Don Scully and Pablo N. Molina and other special effects design by Jeremy Chernick enhance the storytelling.

The fresh book gives us insight into the relationship between Adrian and her brother and parents, as do some songs that Seibert gets to belt. We also find out that Rocky, Paulie and Adrian have known each other since grade school, which also gives further insight into the relationships. Stallone and Meehan even give us a few more female characters in the form of a couple of friends for Adrian and Gloria (Jennifer Mudge), a female interest for Paulie though their relationship isn’t quite clear.

Though song lyrics by Lynn Ahrens provide helpful back story, other songs, like “My Nose Ain’t Broken,” contain hokey, silly phrasing with Rocky singing about the fact that his nose “works nice,” “don’t need no stitches” and “don’t need no ice…..” Karl was just under some notes the night I attended, as well.

Overall, a surprisingly satisfying night at the theater.

Yo! See it at the Winter Garden Theatre, 1634 Broadway, NYC.  http://www.rockybroadway.com.

This show contains
— Language
— God’s name taken invain

Lauren Yarger is a member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle and The American Theater Critics Association. Visit her online at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/