by: Sandi Durell
Who can forget Rocky – the original movie set back in 1975 South Philly that empowered the everyday man – the down and out loser-boxer who’s given a chance. Like winning the lottery when, happenstance, the challenger set to fight the Heavy Weight Champion Apollo Creed, has to drop out and the Italian Stallion (currently employed as a ‘collector’ for the mob) is chosen to take his place.
It’s being relived at the Winter Garden as a musical offering with book by Thomas Meehan (Annie, The Producers, Hairspray), and additional writing by the man himself, Sylvester Stallone. The music is written by Stephen Flaherty, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens (Ragtime, Once on This Island, Seussical,).
When kind-hearted Rocky Balboa (Andy Karl) opens his mouth to speak, he sounds like Rocky with that southside slurred street speech ala Stallone; but when he starts to sing “My Nose Ain’t Broken,” one wonders if this is nothing more than a caricature comedy. But stay with me here because although the first Act is slow, it prepares you for the big payoff which is Act II.
The script sticks pretty closely to the movie in giving audiences what they want – the meat locker scene where Rocky appears amongst the beef carcasses with his pal Paulie, Adrian’s brother, (Danny Mastrogiorgio), who is miscast in this role that needed a more gritty character – Rocky downing raw eggs before the big match – a staircase to run up to the Philadelphia Museum of Art as we listen to a recorded “Eye of the Tiger” while Rocky vigorously trains for the big fight and, piece de resistance, a full size fabulous boxing ring that descends from the top and slides out literally into the audience at the conclusion for the big fight scene. These set designs by Christopher Barreca, with accompanying video by Don Scully and Pablo N. Molina, and lighting by Christopher Akerlind, are quite remarkable (Tony Noms here).
The love aspect between Rocky and Adrian (Margo Seibert) are punctuated with some tender moments and melodic tunes – “Flip Side” and “Happiness.” This is where Ahrens & Flaherty shine but the high energy music that is needed to carry most of the show just doesn’t happen and it’s more than evident when we hear the original Bill Conti theme “Gonna Fly Now” and “Eye of the Tiger.”
Rocky’s manager Mickey (Dakin Matthews) gets a song and does well with “In the Ring” about the old time boxers and the nostalgia of times past.
Apollo Creed (Terence Archie) looks like a boxer and is followed around by his entourage including three cuties who shake it up baby while he sings “Undefeated Man.”
Margo Seibert has a pleasing alto vocal range and plays well as the shy Fishtown pet store worker who emerges into a woman in the arms of Rocky, showing her muster in “I’m Done,” as she angrily tells off her drunken brother who bursts into Rocky’s apartment on New Year’s Eve. Andy Karl is physically and vocally well suited as Rocky, with an engaging charm. We love it when he greets his turtles and endlessly yells “Yo Adrian.” However, I kept wanting more of a street rough n’ tumble type.
Alex Timbers, director (Peter and the Starcatcher, Here Lies Love) shows his genius, as do Steven Hoggett and Kelly Devine in choreographing the spectacular fight scenes.
We all feel good when the good guys win and we leave “Rocky” on a high because that last fight scene of glitz, glamour, sheer power and high tech, is worth the price of a ticket.
*Photos: Matthew Murphy
Winter Garden Theater, 1634 Broadway at 50th Street, 212 239-6200, 2 hours, 20 minutes (20 min. intermission) www.rockybroadway.com