For folks who remember all of those blockbusters of the 70s that made you cheer for underdogs, scared you and tackled issues of social and political intrigue, Rocky was a low budget boxing film about Philly Italian Stallion, Sly Stallone, who couldn’t buy a non stereotypical part in Hollywood and held out for the title role of a self penned screenplay about a down and out boxer who gets a million to one shot to fight champ Apollo Creed.
Playwright Thomas Meehan and music score partners Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens remain so faithful to the film that critics are heralding this stage act as too much macho drama and not enough fanciful musical. But it is said to pack a punch for me generation fans inspired by this lowbrow cinema fairytale to go for their dreams. While not standard cerebral Broadway faire, it is nonetheless a welcome change of pace as a mix of new age remake treatment and retro Hollywood nostalgia. And the lead trio carries the stage act.
Andy Karl plays the contender and Margo Seibert is Adrian, but the star of the show is Terence Archie who according to press literati inhabits his role to the hilt as if he were getting in line to compete for a Tony. That is altogether fitting since it is commonly held in movie land that the original Weathers should have received an Oscar nomination for his charismatic portrayal of a sports superstar in the larger than life mold of Muhammad Ali.
Millennial Broadway Rocky is a gut punch on many levels as choreographers Steven Hoggett and Kelly Devine make this a study in synchronized pugilist dance moves. But what sets this apart is an inventive front stage fourth wall TV style break wherein the audience is treated to watch the climactic showdown on a theater makeshift close circuit style screen that serves as a live 3rd act tech set. The ingenuity of this backdrop gives musical Rocky an updated feel to the match entertainment sensibilities of the digital age.
The only ingredients missing here are a stage angle on the underdog/favorite theme and inclusion of Go The Distance, Bill Conti’s orchestral masterpiece cut from the original movie score, a universal anthem for athletes everywhere that was perhaps too show-stopping for the intimate confines of stage theater. If ever a motion picture was made by its score, this was it. But in a play, instrumental music is too dramatic for dance interpretation and this is where the ambitious production realizes its scope limitations.
Still, Stallone gets pop culture style points for being one of the few Italian-American stars in Hollywood who in his action hero career was able to escape the negative role treadmill available to so many other olive skinned, vowel surnamed actors. If his legendary cinema past deserves to be a musical, the triumph of this goes without saying. For fans of ethnic underdogs, a real life Rocky was the only undefeated heavyweight champion in boxing history.