How much you enjoy Rocky, ultimately, I think will depend upon where you sit, how important or not a varied, engaging score is to you, and what you think the film (and this stage adaptation) is really about. But even if the show fails for you on all three of those counts, there are still plenty of things to admire about this ambitious, if flawed, new entry in the movies-to-musicals pantheon. The technical elements, the staging and many of the performances are top notch. And it is not hyperbole to say that the final scene is among the most breath-taking 20 minutes I've ever seen on a Broadway stage.
I was very fortunate to have sat in the Golden Circle seating area for the show, meaning I was fourth row, dead center, and onstage for the final sequence. I'm not going to waste the time and effort to discuss potential seating issues for this show - read the message boards for that. But I will say, that for me, seeing the show up close really made the show that much more enjoyable. Sometimes distance does lend to the enchantment, and if I were to see this again, I'd like to see it from the mezzanine. Being up close, though, allowed me to really enjoy what the story is really all about. And that is where your expectations might come into play.
|Andy Karl as Rocky Balboa
Musical theatre fans, on the other hand, might not feel as willing though, because, in truth, the score by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Aherns, is definitely the weakest link in the show. Perhaps their work, too, suffers from disappointment stemming from expectation. This pair is superb at writing for period and genre - the tropical flavor of Once on this Island and the musical idioms of Ragtime were both spot on and gloriously rendered. Maybe they just couldn't get a handle on the mid-seventies vibe (they really try in the pseudo-funk/disco number "Patriotic," though the number stops the show and not in the good way). To be fair, they do have a handle on the low level education of our hero, who aptly, if not delicately, assesses his own state of mind in the extended metaphor of "My Nose Ain't Broken," and he's as sweet as can be when he's charming his girl on the ice rink with "The Flip Side." And there are a few songs that are so good that I'll definitely buy the cast recording - "Happiness," the lovely duet for Rocky and Adrian that even hints at the Sondheim sound, and both of Adrian's major solos, the dark and poignant "Raining," and the empowerment ballad, "I'm Done." Thomas Meehan and Sylvester Stallone's book hues closely to the latter's screenplay, and works the songs in nicely enough that it is never jarring when someone opens their mouth and sings. But still, it is the score that causes the show to drag, what with 95% of it being ballads. (And "Eye of the Tiger," while a crowd-pleaser and understandably included, feels like a big cop out to me.)
|Andy Karl and Margo Seibert
The supporting cast does their job well enough. Terence Archie is good in his few scenes as Apollo Creed, nailing the arrogance and, ultimately, the fear of meeting his unlikely match, in his character. (I feel embarrassed for him for having to perform the truly awful "Patriotic.") Danny Mastrogiorgio is terrific as the alcoholic and abusive Paulie, managing to make us both love his good side and hate his bad one. Dakin Matthews' Mickey comes across as more a swarthy longshoreman that gruff gym owner/boxing trainer, but he acquits himself nicely when he is allowed to soften the character some in act two. And Jennifer Mudge does everything she can with a nothing part as Gloria, Adrian's boss/friend and Paulie's girl. (Jenny Lee Stern is a riot as the drunken friend of the girls.) The ensemble, particularly the men, has a lot to do, and I imagine 8 shows a week is exhausting what with all the running, boxing and costume changing they have to execute at each show. I admire their work ethic for sure!
|Terence Archie and Andy Karl
|Andy Karl and Dakin Matthews
I don't know much about boxing, but the choreography/movement by Steven Hoggett and Kelly Devine, sure was convincing to me. It all looked real, even (especially) up close during the finale. And so, I'd have to say that their work was effective. In the more traditional dance area, the God-awful "Patriotic" is just as much their fault as anyone else's. The real hero of this incarnation of Rocky, though is the brilliant Alex Timbers, who masterfully balances the intimate with the spectacular. The whole thing moves with the finesse of a film, including the stage equivalent to huge broad shots and very tight close-ups, montages and slow motion thrills. In the process, he has created glorious stage pictures that give me goosebumps even at the memory of them. And I can't say it enough. That final twenty minutes has set a new standard for the term "jaw-dropping." Timbers has solidified his place as the go-to director of his generation.
It is so frustrating, though, that despite true master work from the directors, the designers and the leads, that what doesn't work in Rocky the musical drags it down so much. Instead of the great (and elusive) rush that comes when you've seen a great musical, the show leaves you thrilled with the attempt...the sport...not the art.