by Tara, New York Guest Concierge
Last night I had the opportunity to see Rocky the Musical, no, not THAT Rocky (though if you’ve never been, the entire midnight movie experience is incredible!), but Rocky the boxer. The famous Sly Stallone, “Yo Adrian!” running up the stairs of the Philadelphia museum, Eye of the Tiger, gold standard of the movie montage…that Rocky, and it was glorious. As every one of those things I mentioned from the film was transposed for the stage and more.
I have actually never seen the Rocky film, (though after last night every boxing parody I have ever seen makes complete sense now) so I had the advantage of being completely open to the show having little to compare it to and not knowing ahead of time if Rocky wins or loses (which just in case, I won’t give away here!) The show opens with very high energy and engages the audience right away while showing off the jewel of their multimillion dollar set: the boxing ring which moves around the stage and rotates. The boxing actors also engage in full contact choreography, which looks just as real as anything I have seen in pro wrestling. After the opening, the show settles in into the story of Rocky and how at heart he is lonely, shy, and though he makes ends meet with his job as a “collector”, still considers himself to be a good person. One would think that with Rocky, these characters, especially the Italian Stallion, would seem weird suddenly bursting into songs but it’s done seamlessly; easing into the song with recitative and then going into the full voice. There are points where certain scenes seem somewhat silly, but part of theatre is suspending your disbelief. Thankfully this cast, particularly Rocky (currently played by Andy Karl), who is the heart and soul of the show, makes it an easy task.
Most of the story is played out in the first act. Rocky pursues Adrian and gets the girl after one ten minute ice skating date ,complete with sweet but surprisingly not theatrical love song. Of all the things in this show that are grandiose and flashy, the love story of Rocky and Adrian is kept modest and genuine, though quickly paced. Also playing out in act 1 is the spectacle all on his own (and entourage) that is Apollo Creed and his desire to fight an underdog with a catchy name to inspire patriotism (and sales) in the city of brotherly love. The first act ends with the rising up of Rocky as a local celebrity and the curtain falls with the 39 day countdown to the big fight. (During intermission the curtain itself actually counts down to 34 days, so if you step away for a drink you might miss it!)
The top of act 2 begins with one of the coolest things I have ever seen done on a live stage- a classic movie montage. With the use of a screen we get to see shots of Rocky training along with Rocky himself (and other Rockys as well) jumping rope and running up, down, and across the stage. However, his training doesn’t begin to come together until he teams up with manager Mickey (another great, emotional-without-being-over-the-top sequence). Then, after almost two hours of waiting… “BAM!—BAM! BAM! BAM!” the opening chords of “Eye of the Tiger” (the audience erupts into cheers!) and a second live action movie montage, which ends with the Rocky theme and his triumphant run to the top of the steps of the Philadelphia Museum.
Christmas Day comes with another just right Rocky and Adrian duet, plus a very powerful ballad by Adrian, when she confronts her drunken brother, shows that she really has blossomed and doesn’t let her family or her past hold her back anymore, which after an act and a half of testosterone, was the well-deserved “You go girl!” moment of the evening.
For the show’s finale, the Winter Garden Theatre transforms into a boxing arena, complete with commentators and a jumbo screen broadcasting the fight via closed circuit cameras. Those that were sitting in the center orchestra were brought up on stage and the ring came out and extended over the now empty seats. Those in the side seats got to stand, and those of us in the mezzanine had perfect seats for the fight.
There are very few shows that have made me forget that I was in a Broadway theater. American Idiot and Motown transported myself and the audience into a concert that brought down the house. Rocky, from the amazing entrances (Apollo’s pro wrestling worthy entrance included a great song and dance with girls in red, white, and blue sequined lady liberty costumes that stripped him from his own red, white, and blue suit and top hat to his trunks), to the announcers, and the jumbotron that lowered from the ceiling and showed the fight in a faux ESPN telecast, I felt as if I were watching a match in Madison Square Garden. The audience cheered and booed throughout the fight, even though most of them already knew the ending. As in the beginning of the show full contact choreography is used, and it looks very convincing and exhausting. These two actors/fighters really give it their all and do a fantastic job. I don’t want to give away the ending to those that don’t know, so if you’re as curious as I was about the outcome, or the show itself, you’ll just have to see it for yourself, but needless to say by the end I was totally blown away!
I know this has not been a typical Broadway review, but Rocky is not your typical Broadway show. If you’re into spectacles and new types of Broadway experiences, GO. If you’re a fan of the movie, definitely GO. Make sure to bring a friend, as you will want someone there to verify that you just saw what you think you saw, and if you can get the golden circle seating do so because those lucky people get escorted to the stage to watch the climactic fight!