It's a Knockout!
Winter Garden Theatre | NYC
music Stephen Flaherty
lyrics Lynn Ahrens
book Thomas Meehan & Sylvester Stallone
directed by Alex Timbers
We all know the story. It’s iconic. It even comes with a Hollywood fable. Or so they say. Sylvester Stallone, star and writer of the 1976 Academy Award winning film, scrimping at the bottom of the ladder, was offered top dollar for his screenplay. But Stallone, uninterested in money, wanted only to play the title role and held out regardless of being told he was too small. Eventually his dream came true and he rose to the top, with many parallels to that of his lead character Rocky.
Stallone’s contemporary sight now brings a completely new meaning to the phrase 'eye of the tiger', having adapted his classic into a musical. Fighting in his corner, he has the pen of Tony Award-winning writer Thomas Meehan, whose work includes The Producers and Hairspray. Together they pretty much scene for scene create a piece that makes the room boom. You cannot help but smile. It is a true underdog story.
Recreating the principal role – and now a proud Tony nominee – Andy Karl does a fantastic job of keeping some of the subtle character traits made famous by that of Stallone whilst ensuring the portrayal is completely his own. Terence Archie, Rocky’s competitor Apollo, is as bold and pompous as ever as he hungers for a worthy challenger. Utter passion releases from the inners of a shy, downtrodden Adrian, played by the simply beautiful Margo Seibert making her Broadway debut, as she fights back against her brother Paulie during her solo “I’m Done”.
Coaching this piece to the stage, Stallone has employed the services of the celebrated duo Ahrens & Flaherty, whose collaborations have composed some of the greats, including Ragtime. It’s disappointing to see then that this is not their finest work. Lyrics here are often obvious, and musically the majority of the numbers fall short of memorable. This aside, it's commendable the creatives did not cop out and go for a typical jukebox musical – and their arrangement of “Eye of the Tiger” steals the show with a complete montage of designer heaven. Rocky’s training routine opens the second act: swallowing raw eggs, we’re off. The show jumps to another level as we watch Rocky go the distance with Dan Scully and Pablo N. Molina’s video design projected in front of the live action.
The big day arrives and the artistic vision of director Alex Timbers is phenomenal. Transforming the traditional proscenium arch into an arena, he ushers members of the front stalls to their feet and onto the stage. Chris Barreca’s set design is almost unimaginable on paper, but in comparison to previous shows such as Spiderman it’s blissfully simple. Standing ringside appreciating the craft of Steven Hoggett – the man literally has a golden touch – combined with the skills of Kelly Devine, their choreography is the highlight of this spectacle. Packing punches, the movement is slick, dynamic and energised.
photo | ©Matthew Murphy