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Gonna Fly Now: NY's "Rocky" Musical Soars With Magical Second Act

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Broadway Musical

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I definitely want to befriend Alex Timbers.

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As a fan of his writing and directing with "Here Lies Love," "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson" and "Peter and the Starcatcher," he's definitely the man to bring alternative and more progressive work to the Broadway stage.

So like Rocky Balboa, the underdog who is to take on the undefeated champ Apollo Creed, Timbers decides to try to take on the Oscar winning and beloved film "Rocky" and put his own stamp on it.

Can the creative man who thinks outside the box actually be able to transform the simple love story with its David vs. Goliath boxing match into something special, especially with a book by the movie star/writer Sylvester Stallone (with Thomas Meehan)?

Let's just see.

"Rocky" the musical has songs by the terrific team of Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, Tony winners for "Ragtime." The musical starts off much like the movie with lead actor Andy Karl as Rocky possessing Rocky's great New York gritty accent and muscular athletic body - all the while being able to sing like an angel. But I don't want to talk too much about the first act.

As far as first act goes, everyone is credible and does a fine and they do well singing songs that were pleasant but not standouts. Margo Seibert even as a few moments to make her Adrian worthy of the "Yo" that Rocky often bellows to her.

But for theatre going experiences, the first act of "Rocky" is a draw. It's good - but it's not enough to make me want to come back.

Then there's act two. And oh, IS THERE EVER AN ACT TWO!

Apparently Manager Mickey had a talk with everyone on the stage and in the production to rally the audience back. Sure the first act had a lot of man candy of sexy boys boxing in tight fitting shorts, but I can download hot pictures on my phone. But when act two starts, take notice.

Everyone is in top form - from the actors, songs, story to the staging.

The transformation of act two starts with the lighting design of Christopher Akerlind who makes great use of photographic effect to make Rocky's training earthy and real. Then they put those hot ensemble men to work and dress them all like Rocky, so when making a scene like a movie montage, it works - thanks to clever lighting and the ensemble bringing us their A game. The movie fortunately is also able to use snippets of the song "Gonna Fly Now," which played such an important role in Rocky's training process, reaching its peak literally when Rocky runs to the top of the steps at the Philadelphia museum.

Take a love song break with "Happiness" and add a shirtless sexy singing scene with the Terry Crews of the live theatre, Terence Archie as Apollo Creed, and "Rocky" is ahead in points and ready for the finale.

And what a finale. The last 30 minutes of "Rocky" will go down among the best moments I've ever experienced in live theatre. Alex Timbers - you amazing theatre God - what have we done to deserve you? I still can't get over everything magical you did with "Here Lies Love" and now the "Rocky" finale is a theatre moment for the history books.

I certainly don't want to be the one to give away its secrets, but the chandelier from "Phantom" and the Cadillac from "Miss Saigon" are tinker toys compared to the brilliant, awe-inspiring, magic that comes at the end of "Rocky."

The scene is so brilliant that the audience couldn't help but to pull out cameras (but with a fast usher on them like white on rice to prevent them). The scene is so over-the-top wonderful that for blocks beyond the theatre, people were still talking about it as they walked to their hotels and restaurants. The scene is so memorable that even in front of other shows letting out, I can hear people utter "That's nothing compared to 'Rocky.' "

The finale alone is definitely worth the price of admission. It truly brings together the talent and trust of the actors and production people alike. Audiences should be so grateful to sound designer Peter Hylenski who can ensure every punch is heard through the theatre, choreographers Steven Haggett & Kelly Devine who ensure every move and "punch" are believable and make-up artist Harold Mertens, who makes the blood seem real. All of the production crew work together to bring us truly an amazing fight - one that seems real and authentic....wow, a great boxing match that happens eight times a week.

Let's not forget the actors on the stage. Sure Archie easily won me over with his amazing looks but more than that, he can act and sing with the best of them. He's a brilliant actor simply trapped in the body of a God. But extra kudos go to Andy Karl as Rocky. He is a terrific singer and has a big hurtle to overcome - make the part his own while paying tribute to Stallone without turning the role into a parody. He more than achieves that and gives us his own Rocky - real, earnest and heartfelt. Obviously, I am not alone in my opinion as Karl is a Tony Award nominee for Best Actor.

To my new friend Alex Timbers, you are the type of creative genius that makes me fly 3000 miles 5 times a year to see Broadway - because I want the magic. Those who think they will wait for "Rocky" to come to your town - don't! Shows really need to be seen in New York because production values are build to make a long-term home for the sets, hoping to be around for years to come. With that in mind, there is more freedom to make elaborate scenic designs and to take chances - because they expect and hope to be in that home for years on end.

Sure a touring production is nice. But when "Miss Saigon" comes to your town for five days, you won't get the helicopter landing on stage. Instead, you will get a rope ladder thrown from above and the sound effects of a helicopter. It's just not the same.

Trust me, "Rocky" live in New York is a moment in theatre history that you do not want to miss. It seems off to a good start and will like keep its home at the Winter Garden Theatre for some time to come. Get your tickets now at www.rockybroadway.com.

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