I can’t really call “Rocky” a contender. Sylvester Stallone’s beloved, Oscar-winning script limps onto the Broadway stage with good intentions. But aside from some amazing staging stunts in the second act, the show never really connects. The only thing memorable about the score is just how unmemorable it really is: the only song you’re likely to leave the theatre humming is Bill Conti’s original theme, “Gonna Fly Now.”
And that was written for the 1976 film, not the new musical. This score, from Broadway vets Stephen Flaherty and Lynne Ahrens, is flat and lifeless, like a boxer down for the count.
Andy Karl tries hard as underdog Rocky Balboa. Fresh off of his success in “Jersey Boys,” he’s credible as the boxer with a will to win . Unfortunately, Margo Seibert is almost invisible as Adrien, the object of his affection. We never really buy into their love story, which was at the very core of the film and propelled the movie to such memorable heights. There is no heat. The only sparks that fly are inside the ring, between Rocky and his competitor, Apollo Creed. Terence Archie is totally over-the-top and spot-on as Rocky’s cocky, flamboyant nemesis.
Still, there are flashes of true grit in the second act. And plenty of theatrics, as the first six rows of audience members are planted on-stage, ring-side, becoming part of Balboa’s epic championship battle. The use of cameras and a jumbotron for the local newscasters provides a fun diversion from a fairly mundane book. Based on Sly Stallone’s beloved film, Stallone and Thomas Meehan are responsible for the plot, which leans heavily on the movie.
I do think there is a built-in audience for “Rocky,” and the show may be review proof. My favorite scene was probably the moment when Rocky punches out a freezer filled with hanging slabs of beef. Straight out of the hit film! When a giant ring emerges in the crowd, and you’re close enough to see Rocky sweat, it’s hard not to be wide-eyed and sucked in, if only for the moment.
I walked in hopeful. After all, who thought we needed a musical version of “The Bridges of Madison County?” I believed the book and the movie were more than enough. But poignant acting by both Kelli O’Hara and Steven Pasquale, plus an absolutely gorgeous score, helped “Bridges” defy the odds.
Not so with “Rocky.” But you be the judge. He’s fighting for his life at the Winter Garden Theatre.
-- Chris Fahey