Stepping into the iconic and legendary role of Rocky Balboa “The Italian Stallion” – written and acted by the iconic and legendary, fearless and persistent Sylvester Stallone (1976) makes for some mighty big boxing gloves to fill.
Luckily Andy Karl hits every mark with shades of Stallone lurking in the background while coming into his own – exhibiting yet another aspect of his wide range of talents. Boxing. Punching and being pummeled eight times a week at The Winter Garden Theatre, slurping down raw eggs, singing to his turtles Cuff and Link, admiring the other Rocky – (Rocco Barbella) Graziano – up on his wall, and quietly falling in love with the shy Adrian (a lovely Margo Seibert) while having to give up his gym locker and work as a “collector” for his loan shark boss Gazzo (Eric Anderson) and ultimately being drafted “as a novelty” into The Fight of The Century opposite champion Apollo Creed (Terence Archie) who is every inch a formidable opponent and performer.
The original score (Lynn Ahrens – lyrics and Stephen Flaherty – music) is very low key. They have done much better work. Here, writing for working class people (and a boxer with limited resources but unlimited heart) the songs meander along until Rocky gets fired up with his Act I finale “Fight From the Heart” – when the show finally takes flight only to be brought down with his manager’s momentum killer “In the Ring” performed by Dakin Matthews as Mickey in Act II.
The extremely memorable “Gonna Fly Now” by Bill Conti for the original Rocky movie that spawned five sequels is heard briefly to get the audience revved up but it isn’t until we hear “Eye of the Tiger” from ROCKY III that the fireworks begin – mainly due to an ingenious directorial gimmick and lots of technical knowhow.
As The Fight of the Century commences – all 15 rounds – the audience members who have purchased these special tickets and know that they are about to stand up and be led on stage to sit in bleachers behind the regulation size boxing rink (Christopher Barreca) amazingly do just that as the rink itself comes forward covering their seats and a huge arena type projection drops for some fantastic close ups of the final twenty minutes of the production which is a one – two knockout punch of jaw dropping stagecraft.
The staging of the bout is choreographed brilliantly by Steven Hoggett and Kelly Devine. But is it enough to save this musical? By the reaction of the audience they should have a healthy run.
Alex Timbers, director, has done similar magic in “Here Lies Love” where the majority of the audience stands and is herded around like cattle. Speaking of which is one scene that garners entrance applause for a slew of dead cow carcasses that fly in from above to the meat locker where Rocky can train by using them as punching bags with the permission of Paulie (Danny Mastrogiorgio) Adrian’s brother.
Video design by Don Scully and Pablo N. Molina help make ROCKY a technological wonder.
The book by Thomas Meehan and Sylvester Stallone falters and one needs to have a large dose of a suspension of disbelief, but it is the fight that everyone will come to see and that delivers the goods. And Andy Karl who goes the distance with his “Keep on Standing.” Yo! Andy Karl.
Photos: Matthew Murphy
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