BWW Blog: ROCKY is a Knockout
Let me say first that my mom loves ROCKY all of the movies, from the first, though, however many they have now. So growing up and even now we'll have marathon watching of all the movies. When I heard about the German production of ROCKY DAS MUSICAL, I was interested enough to dig deeper asking the same question that everyone was asking, "How can they turn, ROCKY, THE MOVIE, into what would become ROCKY, THE MUSICAL?" I'm happy to see, Alex Timbers would be directing, but even more, I was excited to see that the Music would be done by Stephen Flaherty, and lyrics would be done by Lynn Ahrens. I had just fallen in love with their work with the musical RAGTIME, after the great production of the show, "The Playhouse" had put on at the Empire Theater last summer. They really had the right thing going for them. I remember seeing show footage of the production not understanding any of it since it was in German but even then you could tell that their was always Broadway plans in the works. So it came as no surprise to me the day I saw the news that ROCKY was coming to Broadway. Some excitement but mainly curiosity that question still in the back of my head how do you turn ROCKY, THE MOVIE into ROCKY, THE MUSICAL?
So there I am in New York City, and thanks to my brother we were at the Winter Garden Theater, 3rd row from the stage, in what they called the "Golden Circle Seats." Which was really cool, because something amazing happens during the last 20 minutes of the show, but I'll go into later. Anyway, the show starts off kind of slow, but even so, I have high hopes that things will pickup. Throughout the show, a couple things happen: First, right after the opening song, the set starts to move and then we hear a loud BANG! Coming from the stage. The portion of the set, that makes up the Pet Shop, Adrian works at, tries to make its way on stage, and nothing happens. The stage went black and the ROCKY scrim comes down and a loud voice comes on over the stage, "Due to technical difficulties, we will have to hold the show for only a few moments. Please stay in your seats until the show resumes." This was the first time that this had ever happen to me while in a theatre so I was both shocked and worried. There is always a chance that they would have to stop the show altogether, which at the time thinking how awful that would be; a whole night of theatre gone. And my question about how ROCKY, THE MUSICAL could be staged would never be answered. My worry of a night of theater wasted was put aside when the show started again. Secondly, there was a very, unruly audience member, who apparently, was very drunk, in the front row, right next to the conductor. He kept yelling at the actors on stage. I couldn't understand most of what he said, because his words were so muffled in alcohol, and nothing was done about the man's behavior until intermission. The House Manager of the Winter Garden Theatre came up to him and talked to him. That looked awfully familiar. I can think of a few times with my job at the Majestic, when a person was inebriated and was disturbing the show and funny enough that mainly happens when we have a show based on an 80's movie.
Act 2 started, no set problems, although any time the set would move, I would cringe a little and the drunk in the front's behavior. Went from shouting at the stage, to a loud whisper to his wife and son. Up until this time, the show had been just "ok." All of the scenes that you wanted to see from the movie were there, including the big scene, where he climbs the stairs of Philadelphia Museum of Art, and even "Eye of the Tiger" is sung a number of times. Which to be fair wasn't part of the ROCKY DNA until ROCKY 3, so a musical of any of the other movies is more than likely not going to happen? My mother's biggest complaints, were that, Adrian was, "too pretty" from the get go, and Mickey was more there for comic relief, which ROCKY loyalists would have a problem with.
The climactic part of the show had finally arrived, the big, fight scene. Two actors, playing sports commentators, directed those of us sitting in the Golden Circle, to please make their way to the stage, and out of no where, house staff came, and faster than I realized, we were on the stage sitting on bleacher type seats. We had been given lanyards to wear around our necks that looked like Press Passes. Suddenly, without any warning, the stage moved forward and what were once our seats, was now the boxing ring. This was mind blowing, when you first read about the Golden Circle seats, all you really know is that, you will, "Get ringside seats, on stage for the climactic 20-minute finale." The stage moving was just as crazy, as the fight that would go on in the boxing ring. The people left in the orchestra were on their feet, and it was amazing how we went from simple people in a theater, to part of the action. The whole finale gave me goosebumps.
So to the question, how do you turn ROCKY, THE MOVIE, into ROCKY, THE MUSICAL? Even after seeing the show, it's still a tough question. Sadly, some of the musical numbers fall flat, and by that I mean, when asking others that have seen the show what other songs do they remember besides "Eye of the Tiger," they can't seem to think of one. The set makes a lot of noise even when not moving. But the actors are giving it all, with the material they have and the theatrical magic of the last 20 minutes, can easily win people over. So asking my mom, who as I've said, was a big fan of the movie, if the musical was all that she wanted it to be, she sadly says, that she was disappointed with some of the changes to the story that were made, because they weren't needed, and even some of what made the movie, a classic. ROCKY is a very ambitious story. It started with one man writing a screenplay about the underdog that is fighting to leave his mark on the world that has left him with nothing but hope. To a new Broadway musical that asks us again to never give up on hope and love and to no matter what always fight from the heart.
PHOTO CREDIT: Alex Urdailes