Boxing. Broadway. Sound like uncommon bedfellows? Think again, because the current production of Rocky on Broadway — recently imported from its debut in Germany — successfully marries sports and big-budget theater. Storytelling is not the goal of this musical, since most of the audience members are familiar with the underdog plot line of Sylvester Stallone's 1976 sports drama flick. Instead, Rocky is all about spectacle; in fact, the best thing about this musical is that it is unapologetically popular: loud, obvious and for the masses. Like any proper sporting event, Rocky is above all meant to be fun — and in spite of its tired and uncomplicated storyline — it is quite possibly the most fun production on Broadway right now.
Rocky's strengths lie in its visual attractions. Supplying plenty of eye candy, Andy Karl (as Rocky Balboa) and Terence Archie (as Apollo Creed) lead a ripped ensemble of boxers, who spend most of their stage time half-clothed. On the design side, Dan Scully and Pablo N. Molina's cinematic montages of Rocky training flicker onto towering concrete facades of South Philly — a beautiful link to the musical's filmic heritage. The awe-inspiring sets designed by Christopher Barreca transition fluidly between Rocky's gritty apartment, a meat locker and a floating boxing ring. Visually citing famous scenes from the movie, part of the fun of Rocky is recognizing these iconic cinematic moments on stage. Even David Zinn's costume design is citational, skillfully duplicating Rocky's famous leather jacket and fedora hat.
With all this visual splendor, Rocky succeeds in delivering high-volume, in-your-face action in droves (especially in the second act). As mentioned before, however, this musical relies heavily on audience knowledge of the film's plot to "fill in the blanks" of its rather stupefying script. Adrian's abrupt disappointment in Rocky's decision to fight Apollo Creed, for example, is less contrived in the film. No bones about it, though: this musical is wholly unconcerned with plot development. Rather, its primary concern is to reproduce and spectacularize the relics of Stallone's filmic legacy. In a more serious genre, this would be a problem; but again, Rocky only presents itself at face value. It's a sports film musical — what more do you want?
Musically, however, Rocky falls somewhat flat. While dynamic songwriting team Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens' music and lyrics are enjoyable, they are not catchy upon first listen. Do not expect Rocky to deliver an exceptionally innovative musical score that will have you humming all the way home to Brooklyn. Similarly, do not expect performers with unmatchable vocal gravitas. This is not to say that the vocal performances are sub par: the chorus is certainly powerful as one, and Karl and Margo Seibert (as Adrian) match each others' tones quite well. Simply put, Rocky's production value depends far more on adrenaline-inducing spectacle than musical ingenuity.
The moral of Rocky's story is to come for the spectacle and stay for the boxing match. If you're looking for mindless summer fun and are sick of bumming around the movie theater, give Rocky a go.
Tickets for Rocky can be purchased at the Winter Garden Theatre (1634 Broadway between 50 and 51st Sts.) by visiting Telecharge.com or by calling 212-239-6200. Performances run Monday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m. A limited number of day-of-show rush tickets will be available at the box office on a first-come, first-served basis. Rush tickets are $35 (Tuesday through Friday) and $45 (Saturday and Sunday). Rush tickets will be become available at 10 a.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and noon on Sunday for performances on the same day. Rush tickets are subject to availability and limited to two per person.