BWW Interviews: Debut of the Month - ROCKY's Margo Seibert
The iconic underdog story of down-and-out fighter Rocky Balboa is brought to life by a five-time Tony Award-winning creative team, including director Alex Timbers (Peter and the Starcatcher), songwriting team Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (Ragtime), and book writers Thomas Meehan (The Producers) and Sylvester Stallone (Rocky, the Oscar-winning Best Picture).
Both an adrenaline-infused spectacle and a surprising tale of blossoming romance between two lonely outsiders, Rocky is a visceral and heart-stopping theatrical experience for everyone brave enough to follow their dream.
Today, the talented actress talks exclusively to BroadwayWorld about why her Broadway debut was truly art imitating life.
Let's start from the beginning. How did your casting come about for the show?
Well, it started off as a normal call from my agent saying they had an appointment for me for the Rocky musical. And we all kind of chuckled at the idea that it would be possible they'd chose me. They sent some sides along and some music and I always ask my boyfriend to read all my sides with me, so we were going through the script and we both kind of stopped and said, 'This is so beautifully written - it's just so good!' and I started getting really excited about it.
So I went in with some sides and the music that they had asked me to learn, and then it started this journey of an eventual nine-callback process, sometimes coming in to do a vocal work session with [music supervisor] Dave Holcenberg and then other times I'd come in and do something specifically for the creative team. And as the callbacks continued, more and more people would be in the room. It was terrifying but also really exciting to know that I was doing something right and that they were interested. So I just kept going.
How familiar were you with the film prior to your casting?
You know to be quite honest, I knew it was an iconic film and I had seen clips of it, but I chose not to watch it in its entirety before I started auditioning because, although Talia Shire's performance was beautiful in the film, I didn't want to copy or imitate it. I wanted to bring whatever I had to offer to the role. So I had hesitated to see it, but by callback, I think either number five or six, I was encouraged to watch the film and at that point, I felt very comfortable going back to it and knowing that I was doing my work and it would only enhance and inform what I was already doing.
It must be a challenge to honor Talia Shire's iconic performance and at the same time, as you said, make it your own. How do you go about accomplishing that?
Finding a way into Adrian for me, well at first I thought, 'I'm not as shy as she is, and I'm much more outgoing and how is this going to work?' And I was struggling to find a plausible way in. And actually that same year, my younger sister had passed away in a car accident and I had stopped my work and I was just in a place where I was dealing with that. And this was one of the first auditions that had popped up and I said to myself, 'You know, all of these feelings and all of this vulnerability that Adrian has, I had felt those feelings quite strongly over the past two years dealing with the loss of my sister and how my family proceeded after that, so I just decided to take all that into the room with me. You know Adrian has a lot of social anxiety and a lot of questioning as to whether or not she deserves the love of this man. She's had so many things happen to her in her past which have in some ways, stunted her growth a little bit, so I just took all that vulnerability that I had been feeling and said to myself, 'you know what, bring it into the room, I'm not going to fight it, and I'm not going to hide it.' And somehow that created this bridge between Adrian as she's written, Adrian as Talia Shire played her, and the Adrian that I was, kind of bringing my experience to it.
That's really extraordinary. Adrian truly goes through a transformation throughout the play, both physically and emotionally, as she finds her inner strength. How do you approach that challenge as an actress?
Honestly, I'm just so thrilled that in this particular original musical of Rocky they decided to expand her character in that way. Of course there are moments in the movie where you see her changing, you know when she says to Rocky, 'Do you need a roommate?' it's kind of in that moment when she realizes, 'Ok, I'm ready to get out of here, I'm ready to move out of my brother's place.'
But in our musical we have, as you said, this physical transformation which is actually liberating and very enjoyable for me because slowly but surely you get to learn why she is the way she is, why she's struggling. And then clearly at the end, because she took a chance, because she took this opportunity to let herself love Rocky, she becomes this whole person, this person who can stand up for herself and have the courage and know that she is loved and know that she's important. I have so many people come up to me after the show and they talk about how much they needed to hear that song, 'I'm Done,' when she tells off her brother. It's like they needed to hear Adrian stand up for herself. And I love that!
And along those lines, the show also creates a parallel between Adrian's life story and Rocky's, which is not quite as evident in the film.
Yes, they have that song in the ice skating scene, 'The Flip Side of Me', and I actually worked with a coach of mine and we talked about, what does that mean, what is the parallel of you, what is the flip side of you, and why do you need it and how does it compliment you and make you stronger. And that's why that song is so much fun, because they both discover for the first time how they help each other and how they care for each other, and it's during that number that they realize, 'oh wow, this is real, this is really something amazing!'
Yeah, you know the audition room is such a funny place because you walk in and you shake somebody's hand and you say 'Hi, I'm Margo,' and then ten minutes later you're kissing them in a romantic scene, so it's always kind of a funny thing. I remember going in and auditioning with Andy and I just felt totally at ease. I felt in really good hands, like he wasn't going to throw me under the bus, he was listening, he was caring and it made it easy. It makes those kind of scenes so simple, and it really does feel like the way that Alex Timbers makes these scenes so intimate and small, and the way Tom Meehan wrote it, it just feels like we're the only two people in the world.
The film and now the show has proven to have such worldwide appeal. What do you think makes the story so universal? Is it, at its core, really a simple love story?
I definitely do, It's actually these two amazing stories. It's a love story which everybody can relate to, and then of course it's the underdog story as well. I remember watching an interview with Sylvester Stallone and he talked a lot about unrealized dreams and how that really stuck with him. That idea that somebody who thinks that their time has passed and never had the chance to fulfill their dream, can still have the opportunity. And this story tells you, yes, it doesn't matter that you don't come from wealth, it doesn't matter if the road is really difficult for you, you can still do it.
And I think Andy and I both really relate very strongly to that story. Being from Maryland and not being formerly trained in theater, just kind of working our way up, slowly but surely, and now we find ourselves in this amazing opportunity where you have these underdogs who get to celebrate that and show everybody that they can do it.
It's truly art imitating life.
You mentioned Sylvester Stallone. What has it been like to have him involved with the production?
Of course it was surreal at first, but he's wonderful. He's been incredibly generous and so humble, so humble about the theater, so humble about musical theater, and very generous with his input and sharing information about how it was to film those scenes with Talia Shire and what his inspiration was. And he gave us a few notes about some scenes which really helped us shape it a bit more because originally it's coming from him. He has the insight to the story and it's such a gift for Andy and I to be able to spend time with him and talk about those scenes and those moments for him which really take him back to that time in his life. I think that's really the essence of who he is.
It must be a thrill for him as well.
Yes. Just the other night I was talking to him with my parents and he was very kind and very complimentary about the fact that Andy and I have both brought our own versions of Adrian and Rocky to the stage. The way Adrian becomes confident and stands up for herself, he feels is a very important part of the story to tell today, for today's woman.
I just have to ask you about the final boxing scene. The first time you and the cast heard about how it would be staged or maybe even saw it for the first time, did you realize at that moment what a unique theatrical experience it would create, or was it not until the audience was there that that became evident?
That's a great question. You know, the first day we had our design presentation and [set designer] Chris Barreca gave all of us a preview of what was going to happen, I would say for all of us it was a bit of a collective jaw-dropping moment. To try to understand what that would look like and what that would be like and how inclusive it would be of the audience. But you are also so right, when we got that audience out there and we start that final fight it bridges this place of intimate theater to spectacle sporting event. You know the audience doesn't remember that Rocky doesn't win the fight, they are rooting for him to win, you know they're like, 'well maybe this time it will be different!' They're in it, they're at the fight. It's like they're thinking, 'if we cheer loud enough, maybe he can win.' It's very cool!
What has it been like to make your Broadway debut in Rocky?
I don't think it could have come together in any more of a miraculous way. It's been so thrilling for me. I never knew if it was going to be Broadway, and I certainly didn't know when, but I knew that I loved to work on original pieces, I loved working with writers, I love almost being a part of the creative team right along with them, and that is something I didn't even know existed on the Broadway scale. And it was almost like I found it and it found me. The project and I found each other. And I'm so thankful that Alex, Lynn [Ahrens] Stephen [Flaherty], Tom and Stallone all wanted to take a chance on me and let me bring Adrian to life. It's a dream come true!
ROCKY is currently playing at Broadway's Winter Garden Theater (1634 Broadway). For tickets and more information, please visit: http://rockybroadway.com/
About Margo Seiber:
Margo Seibert was seen in the Off-Broadway production of Tamar of the River at Prospect Theatre Co. Regionally she has performed in Candide at the Goodman Theatre/ Shakespeare Theatre Co.; In This House, Orestes: A Tragic Romp at Two River Theatre Co.; Arcadia at the Folger Theatre; The Boy Detective Fails at Signature Theatre; Next to Normal and Pregnancy Pact at the Weston Playhouse; as well as new work development at Playwrights Horizons, the O'Neill, New Dramatists and NAMT. She has appeared on television on "Boardwalk Empire."