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A CurtainUp Review
"You're only as old as you feel."— Rocky Balboa
Margo Seibert and Andy Karl
On the streets of Philadelphia in 1975, Rocky Balboa (Andy Karl) may be a thug who earns a living roughing up those who don't promptly pay their debt to a local loan shark. But in the contained world of neighborhood prize fights and prospective sparring partners to champions, he continues to dream of better days, even a future with Adrian (Margo Seibert), the shy and repressed young woman whom he has loved since the fifth grade.

The better days come when, through a fluke, he is given the chance to fight the world's heavyweight champion Apollo Creed (Terrence Archie). Can he turn his life around? Can he train and get himself sufficiently into shape to last fifteen rounds? More importantly, has the hugely successful Academy Award-winning 1976 movie hit Rocky (that spawned five sequels) been marvelously re-conceived and transformed into a colossal Broadway musical?

You bet, and mainly due to the extraordinarily clever direction of Alex Timbers. Having previously wowed critics and audiences with his imaginative direction of Peter and the Star Catcher and Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson Timbers outdoes himself bringing the somewhat cliched story to energizing life and keeping the action compelling in the stunningly detailed and intimate interior scenes as well as the excitingly visceral ones in the gym and on the street. And the climactic scene, with the up-front-and-center blood, sweat and violence in your face, has been staged to knock your block off.

With the exception of the classic Clifford Odet's play Golden Boy (recently revived successfully on Broadway) and The Body Beautiful a 1958 musical about a prize-fighter (60 performance flop), stories about pugilists and their plights are rarely seen on the stage.

The seriousness with which composer Stephen Flaherty, lyricist Lynn Ahrens (lyrics) and book authors Thomas Meehan and Sylvester Stallone have afforded their collaborative effort is remarkable — especially in light of the show's being an easy target for jokes. Though their choosing to premiere the show in Hamburg, Germany also risked chukles were it not for how it has evidently paid off. Many in the audience will laugh with delight as well as applaud at fondly remembered scenes, such as Rocky climbing the high and wide steps to the Philadelphia Art Museum and punching away at the huge raw carcass of a cow (one of many) in a meat factory locker.

Familiar scenes from the film have been awesomely re-envisioned by set designer Christopher Barreca to dazzle us with spectacle, as well as frame and support the musical and dramatic content. Seeing how superbly the principal characters are being played is certainly not in conflict with the film's vivid portrayals. What makes this musical work so beautifully is the way the love story, in which two forlorn people discover the best in themselves and support the best in each other (as reflected in their lovely duet "Happiness"), is balanced against the grittier side of their lives.

Karl, who earned praise for his performance in The Mystery of Edwin Drood and as the handsome hunk in Legally Blonde , is terrific. His Rocky delivers the punches with as much fury and fervor as he delivers the songs that define him, notably the reprise-worthy "My Nose Ain't Broken." Aside from the Italian ghetto lingo and the familiar resonances of him shouting "Yo, Adrian," he has a commanding presence.

Margo Seibert, who is making her Broadway debut, doesn't have nearly the same amount of stage time, but she impressively empowers her impassioned solos — "Raining," "I'm Done," and "Adrian." Overall she is warmly affecting as the over-protected sister of her brutish brother Paulie (a bristling, demonstrative performance by Danny Mastrogiorgio).

the supporting roles are given a vivid reality by a fine cast. Archie, the body-beautiful, has had time since originating the role of Apollo Creed in Hamburg to fine tune the character's swagger and his upper cuts and body blows. As Rocky's aging manager Mickey, Dakin Matthews bellows gritty truths even as he gets to belt his defining song "In the Ring" in waltz time.

As a song writing team Flaherty and Ahrons (Ragtime, Seussical among many others in their thirty years of collaboration) once again demonstrate their ability to keep alive the tradition of matching glistening melodies to glittering lyrics. We certainly forgive them for retaining snippets of the original inspirational movie theme (by Bill Conti) for key moments. Highlights include watching the corps of fighters in training in a sprawling gym and seeing the audience become a virtual participants in the main event thanks to the choreography by Steven Hoggett & Kelly Devine.

True, that Rocky (and thank you producers for not adding The Musical to the title) is yet another adaptation from film to stage. But it goes its full fifteen often thrilling rounds without you wishing for a k.o. in the first.

Book by Thomas Meehan and Sylvester Stallone
Music by Stephen Flaherty
Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Directed by Alex Timbers
Choreography: Steven Hoggett & Kelly Devine

Cast: Andy Karl (Rocky Balboa), Margo Seibert (Adrian), Terence Archie (Apollo Greed), Dakin Matthews (Mickey), Danny Mastrogiorgio (Paulie), Jennifer Mudge (Gloria), Adrian Alfredo Aguilar (Reporter, Boxer), Eric Anderson (Rocky's Corner man/Gazzo/Tommy Crosetti), Michelle Aravena (Angie, Ensemble), James Brown III (Sugar Jackson/Boxer/Cameraman), Sam J. Cahn (Boxer, Rocky Marciano/Referee), Kevin Del Aguila (Mike/Watchman/Jack/Doctor), Ned Eisenberg (Announcer/Wysocki/Bob Dunphy), Sasha Hutchings (Apollo girl, Ensemble), David Andrew Macdonald (Miles Jergens/Ensemble), Vasthy Mompoint (Linda McKenna/Apollo Girl), Vince Oddo (Boxer, Ensemble), Okieriete Onaodowan (Dipper/Apollo's Cornerman), Adam Perry (Spider Rico/Boxer/Boom Operator), Kristin Piro (Apollo Girl, Shirley), Luis Salgado (Kid Rizzo/Boxer/Rocky's Cornerman), John Schiappa (Buddy/Jimmy Michaels), Wallace Smith (Fight Promoter/Apollo's Manager, Disc Jockey), Jenny Lee Stern (Joanne/Ensemble)
Scenic Design: Christopher Barreca
Costume Design: David Zinn
Lighting Design: Christopher Akerlind
Sound Design: Peter Hylenski
Video Design: Dan Scully and Pablo N. Molina
Music Supervision: David Holcenberg
Orchestrations: Stephen Trask, Doug Besterman
Music Director: Chris Fenwick
Vocal Arrangements: Stephen Flaherty
Music Coordinator: John Miller
Running Time: 2 hours 25 minutes including intermission
Winter Garden Theatre, 1634 Broadway, between West 50th and 51st Streets.
(212) 239 - 6200
Tickets: $39.00 - $143.00 (premium seats $199.00 & $250.00)
Golden Circle Seating: Guests in Center Orchestra rows AA-F will be escorted onto the stage to watch the climactic fight during the final 20 minutes of the performance. After ascending a small set of stairs, you will join this exclusive audience experience on bleacher-style seats. In order to be this close to the action, the show provides a free coat check, as you will only be able to take a small handbag or coat and will not be able to return to your original seats after the show ends.
Performances: Evenings: Tuesday at 7 pm; Wednesday through Saturday at 8 pm. Matinees: Wednesday and Saturday at 2 pm; Sunday at 3 pm.
From 02/13/14 Opened 03/13/14
Reviewed by Simon Saltzman based on performance 03/11/14.
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • Ain't Down Yet / Company, Fight Promoter, Gazzo and Buddy
  • My Nose Ain't Broken / Rocky Balboa
  • Philly Pie / Gloria, Angie and Joanne
  • Raining /Adrian
  • Patriotic / Apollo Creed, Apollo's Manager, Miles Jergens, Apollo Girls and Ensemble
  • My Nose Ain't Broken (Reprise) /Rocky Balboa
  • The Flip Side /Rocky Balboa and Adrian
  • Adrian Rocky Balboa
  • Wanna Know Why / Gazzo, Buddy, Rocky Balboa and Mickey
  • Fight from the Heart /Rocky Balboa
  • One of Us /Company
Act Two
  • Training Montage 1, In the Ring Mickey
  • Training Montage 2 / Company
  • Happiness /Rocky Balboa and Adrian
  • I'm Done /Adrian
  • Southside Celebrity /Company, Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed
  • Adrian (Reprise) /Adrian
  • Keep on Standing / Rocky Balboa
  • Undefeated Man /Apollo Creed and Entourage
  • The Fight /Company
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