This is easily the most spectacular musical to come out of Broadway this season. Director Alex Timbers has long been one of the American theatre’s most inventive stagers, and here he has truly outdone himself, with a stunning, climactic ending that will be hard for him to top going forward.
Based on the 1976 film that made Sylvester Stallone a star, Rocky follows struggling small time Philly boxer Rocky Balboa (Andy Karl), who gets a once-in-a-lifetime shot to prove himself in the ring fighting heavyweight champ Apollo Creed.
Christopher Barreco’s ever evolving set is very evocative of ’70s Philly, as well as being increasingly eye-filling – just astounding. He is definitely aided and abetted by video designers Don Scully and Pablo N. Molina, whose large-scale projections of Rocky training add to the epic feel of the show. One small video problem – all the televised fight sequences have a very 21st Century ESPN look to them, rather than the lo-fi look of ’70s sports broadcasting. It’s not hi-res that I object to, that’s fine, it’s a visual aesthetic that is completely foreign to 1976. A small quibble, but annoying.
Thankfully, all this spectacle actually has a beating heart behind it. Andy Karl leans into Rocky’s sensitive side, soft-peddling the macho, “Italian Stallion” side of his personality – I think it’s a great choice. Margo Seibert is great as Balboa’s love interest, the painfully shy Adrian – her voice is truly lush and does great things for songs like “Raining”. Lynn Ahrens (lyrics) and Stephen Flaherty (music) have provided a lovely score, running over with melody and feeling. It’s the kind of score that opens up upon repeated listening – which isn’t quite the right choice for a show as punchy as this. Very nice, but not quite right.
Rocky the Musical has never a dull moment, and truly is a thrill-ride. Highly recommended.
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