Thursday, July 24, 2014

Theater: Rocky refs stop the fight, but the show is a winner

Text and photos by George Molé

Rocky, the Broadway musical version of Sylvester Stallone's 1976 boxing film, is closing next month.  It shouldn't be.

I had been intending to see it for a while, but finally got in gear and caught Saturday's matinee at the Winter Garden when I heard it only had a few weeks to go.  It's not quite a masterpiece, but it's very well done, and carries much of the energy, pathos and inspirational power of the original film. 

The two excellent leads--Andy Karl and Margo Seibert--evoke Stallone and Talia Shire without quite imitating them.  The sets are brilliant, bringing the audience into working-class 1970s Philly with masterful detail, down to the old-style console TV in the living room.

 I don't think any standards will come out of this musical, but the songs are still very good.  And the climax of the play is amazingly done--a boxing ring is projected out from the stage, taking up the first several rows of the seating area, and the audience members from that section are brought onstage to sit in bleachers.  And then the fight takes place, perfectly choreographed and realistic as hell.

I also like the very subtle Christian imagery, as Rocky, afraid and believing he may end up crippled or otherwise irreparably damaged from the fight, prays, as a pattern of light in the background unmistakably evokes a cross.  Someone in this creative team understands Christ's role as brother to the underdog.

Whatever anyone may think of Stallone's later work, Rocky is the quintessential American fable.  And it's been brought to the stage quite effectively in this production.  If a musical based on the work of ABBA can run for years and years on Broadway, then this show should have had a chance.  I'm sorry to see it go.

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