Words by Andrew LaSane
Life is full of pleasant surprises, I just never expected one of them to be Rocky on Broadway.
Like a lot of people, when I heard that the movie was being made into a legit Broadway musical, I laughed and most likely tweeted my disbelief. I saw the The Lion King some years back on Broadway and it was amazing, and I had heard good things about a few other musicals that were adapted from films, so it wasn't the idea of it that gave me doubts, it was the source material. Granted, I saw Rocky (the film) a very long time ago, and what I remembered about it came from references on television and other movies, not from my personal experience viewing the film. Everyone knows "Yo, Adrian," Apollo Creed, and the theme song, whether they've seen the movie hundreds of times or never at all, and as far as my shitty memory was concerned, I was much closer to the latter: I was familiar with the film, but I knew almost nothing about it.
So when the good people at Visit Philly invited me to see it during the preview stages of the production, my curiosity made me accept. I didn't re-watch the film, and I didn't read any reviews of the show because I wanted to go in blind and unaware of the hype. I'm going to try to talk about the experience and give a bit of a review with as few spoilers as possible, but if you don't want to know what happens you should stop reading right now.
First of all, the set design for the play is hands-down one of the best I've ever seen. We were quickly transported from Rocky's locker at the gym, over to the pet shop where Adrian works, back to Rocky's living room, then down the block to where Adrian and her brother Paulie live. Set designer Chris Barreca has over two hundred designs under his belt, both on and off Broadway, and his work on this production is beyond impressive. Every part of the venue is used, from the floors to the rafters and sometimes there were even staged "news reports" that took place next to the aisle seats. I was hype! We cheered as the cows dropped from the heavens in the meat locker, applauded the phantom boxing ring up in the rafters with its slow-motion fighters, roared when the stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art came together almost out of thin air, and I lost my shit when a section of the audience was invited on stage for the "big fight" and the main ring slide out over the orchestra seats, complete with a Jumbotron and monitors that showed the fight in real-time with statistics and alternate viewing angles. Each individual environment was as gritty or as spectacular as it needed to be and I often forget that I sitting in the Winter Garden Theatre in midtown Manhattan.
Obviously, people don't go to Broadway shows just to gawk at the sets because that would be a waste. For the most part, the screenplay of Rocky on Broadway follows the plot of the original book/movie (which you can read for yourself at IMDb). A lot of the quotables are tossed in for the fans ("Ya, know?") and the theme blares at the perfect time to get the audience pumped for the climax. It was a smart move for them to borrow the song "Eye of the Tiger" from Rocky III because it played off of the nostalgia of the franchise (and no one is waiting for Rocky III to be adapted into a musical). The sound design is intense, the Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty original songs work well to assist and at times propel the story, instead of being thrown in as mandatory song and dance numbers. From what I remember, all of the singing voices are on par with what you would expect from a cast of seasoned thespians.
I don't have much to say about any of the performances, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. It must be hard to portray characters from such an iconic film because there is less room for interpretation or personal flair as an actor when there are viewers who have a clear vision of how the characters "should" be portrayed. That being said, though they were all a bit overshadowed in the end by the outstanding visuals of the play, I didn't leave the theatre thinking that anyone sucked. The show was thoroughly entertaining, especially in the second act, I want turtles just so I can name them Cuff and Link, and I already have plans to see the films and this musical again.
Between now and April 4, you could win tickets to see the show, a two-night stay in Center City Philadelphia, tickets to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and other Rocky-themed prizes. For more information, head to the Visit Philly "Rocky's Philadelphia" site.