Rocky, playing at the Winter Garden Theatre, is one of the major hits of the current Broadway season. Adapted by Sylvester Stallone and co-librettist Tom Meehan from Stallone’s 1976 film of the same name, it shows that the basis of any good play, film or musical is a strong story. And Rocky, the story of an underdog boxer suddenly rising to boxing glory from the streets of Philadelphia, is a classic tale with quirky characters. Besides Rocky, the inarticulate but gentle fighter, there are Adrienne, his girlfriend, Adrienne’s brother, Paulie, and Rocky’s trainer, Micky.
Andy Karl, playing Rocky, is excellent. But Margo Seibert steals the show as Adrienne. Through the songs written by Broadway veterans Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, she expresses much in Adrienne that was only suggested in the films. Perhaps the highlight of the show is the song in which she tells off her brother, Paulie.
Yet the show’s true star is probably the director, Alex Timbers, who simulates an actual fight in the climactic scene between Rocky and heavyweight champion Apollo Creed. A large chunk of the audience is moved to the stage area so that the fight can occur in the theatre’s center. Spotlights fall on the combatants as they make their way out through the audience, and sports commentators appear on jumbotrons.
The score, by Ahrens and Flaherty, is disciplined in serving the story’s characters dramatically. But their songs are overshadowed by the music from the Rocky films, including “Eye of the Tiger”. My one complaint with the production concerns the orchestrations. Brass and synthesizers too often drown out Ms. Ahrens’ well-hewn lyrics.
As a side note, the Winter Garden is an old. elegant theatre, dating from 1911. Best known in recent years as the long-time home of Cats, it has much better legroom than other theatres of its era.