Winter Garden Theatre
1634 Broadway between 50th & 51st Sts.
Through November 23, $39-$143
The musical version of Rocky is certainly expected to go the distance, moving into Broadway’s Winter Garden Theatre, which was home to Cats from October 1982 to September 2000, then Mamma Mia! from October 2001 to October 2013 (before moving to the Broadhurst). And there’s no reason to think this champ won’t be around for a long time too, as the stage adaptation of John G. Avildsen’s Oscar-winning 1976 film, which spawned five sequels over thirty years is a rousing triumph. Rocky works primarily because Sylvester Stallone, who wrote the book with Thomas Meehan (The Producers, Hairspray), has stayed faithful to his story of a local boxer trying to get by in South Philadelphia. In many ways, Rocky is more a play with songs rather than an all-out musical, with lots of dialogue, much of it taken directly from the film’s screenplay, which earned Stallone an Oscar nomination. Andy Karl (The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Legally Blonde) puts on the gloves as Rocky Balboa, who lives alone in a small, cramped apartment where he worships undefeated champion Rocky Marciano and hasn’t given up his dreams quite yet, despite his lack of success. He “Ain’t Down Yet,” the show’s first big number announces, after which he proudly declares, “My Nose Ain’t Broken.” He’s lost his locker at the gym and can’t get a date with the mousey Adrian (Margo Seibert), his best friend Paulie’s (Danny Mastrogiorgio) timid sister, but his life takes quite a turn when heavyweight champion Apollo Creed (Terence Archie) chooses Balboa to be his underdog challenger in a patriotic battle for the world title.
His trainer, Mickey (Dakin Matthews), comes crawling back to him, and off Rocky goes, running through the streets of Philadelphia (yes, including the steps of the art museum), pounding meat, and tenderly wooing Adrian, who is slowly breaking out of her shell, as the championship fight nears. And what a fight it is, highlighted by a moving stage that floats into the audience as set designer Christopher Barreca turns the Winter Garden into the Spectrum. Director Alex Timbers has shown he has a unique take on musical theater in such wildly hailed productions as Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and Here Lies Love, and he does so again with Rocky, bringing visual flair and tongue-in-cheek humor to this familiar tale, led by a strong performance by Karl as the Italian Stallion, balancing toughness with a tender charm. Stephen Flaherty’s music and Lynn Ahrens’s lyrics aren’t particularly memorable and Archie’s Creed doesn’t have the depth displayed by Carl Weathers in the films, but this underdog musical manages to get past a few dull rounds, ending up packing quite a wallop.