Review Roundup: ‘Rocky’

Rocky, the new musical based on the 1976 Oscar-winning film about a hard-luck club boxer getting a shot at the heavyweight crown, opened on March 13 at the Winter Garden Theater. Sylvester Stallone, who played the title role in the movie and wrote the screenplay, co-authored the book with Tony winner Thomas Meehan (Annie, The Producers, Hairspray). The songs are by composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Ahrens, the team behind Ragtime and Once on This Island. The production opened in Hamburg, Germany in the fall of 2012 and is still playing there to packed houses. Director Alex Timbers, who received Tony nominations for Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and Peter and the Starcatcher, repeats his staging chores with Steven Hoggett and Kelly Devine as choreographers. Andy Karl (The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Jersey Boys) stars as Rocky and Margo Seibert makes her Broadway debut as Adrian, the shy pet store clerk he woos.

Critics were impressed with the climactic, 20-minute fight sequence between Rocky and the bombastic Apollo Creed (Terence Archie), and the lead performances by Karl and Seibert. But most had problems with the score and the book. Elysa Garnder of USA Today enjoyed Adrian’s “Raining” ballad, but complained “other numbers mix predictable sentiments with overheated rock accents.” Elisabeth Vincentelli of the NY Post said the score “lacks energy, not to mention soul.” Linda Winer of Newsday found all the characters way too nice to impart a sense of conflict. David Cote of Time Out New York was one of the few to deliver an overall positive notice. Here are excerpts from the major reviewers.

Margo Seibert and Andy Karl at the curtain call opening night of 'Rocky' on Broadway (Photo: Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)

Margo Seibert and Andy Karl at the curtain call opening night of ‘Rocky’ on Broadway (Photo: Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)

 

Ben Brantley, New York Times
“Every tool at the disposal of the creative team (and probably much of the show’s budget) is brought into play…for an all-out, multimedia assault on the senses that forces much of the audience to its feet. And I won’t say more, because why should I spoil the one real pleasure this show provides?”

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News
“[T]o ‘go the distance,’ to quote the fictional Balboa, a musical needs more than a stunning climax. Impressive performances and eloquent design work enrich this mid-1970s South Philadelphia story, but the by-the-numbers script and score alternately fight it.”

Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post
“As the Italian Stallion, Karl follows the Stallone model — a big galoot with a heart of gold—but he makes it his own…He’s well matched with [Terence] Archie’s cocky Apollo and Margo Seibert’s Adrian, even though she isn’t as pathetically lonely as the movie’s semi-recluse.”

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press
“It features a score by Ragtime veterans Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens that’s intriguing—fortified by Bill Conti’s song ‘Gonna Fly Now’ as well as Survivor’s ‘Eye of the Tiger’— but fails to really land a knockout punch. Songs like ‘Raining,’ ‘’My Nose Ain’t Broke’ and ‘Keep on Standing’ are rather lovely, but the rest of the tunes are either cookie-cutter or seem like they were simply abandoned while director Alex Timbers gleefully unpacked his cool tricks for later.”

Linda Winer, Newsday
“For a show that ends with the most impressive 20-minute boxing match ever seen in a Broadway musical, Rocky lacks conflict. Everyone is basically nice, even the gangsters, especially Andy Karl in a career-breakthrough performance as Rocky Balboa.”

Marilyn Stasio, Variety
“Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens no doubt took their pittance for scoring the book by Thomas Meehan and Sylvester Stallone. But the real coin for helmer Alex Timbers’ extravagant production went into the spectacular projections, sound and lighting effects, and into the scenic showpiece—a regulation-size boxing ring that puts the audience ringside for the big fight. Looks like it was worth every penny.”

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter
“While the songs in this musicalization of the career-making 1976 Sylvester Stallone movie come and go without leaving much of an impression, the stage magic that director Alex Timbers and set designer Christopher Barreca work with the finale fight is so visceral and exhilarating that it sends the audience out on a high.”

Elysa Gardner, USA Today
“Playing an iconic hero who has been the subject of caricature for nearly 40 years must have posed a considerable challenge, but under Alex Timbers’ sensitive direction, Karl keeps the swagger to a minimum, emphasizing instead the mix of stoicism and insecurity and the fundamental decency that drew fans to the ‘Italian Stallion’ in the first place. Even his goofy jokes have an endearingly low-key, matter-of-fact quality.”

David Cote, Time Out New York
“The score is uneven and some characters sketchy, but the piece has tremendous heart and narrative drive. In the end, Timbers achieves a splendid balance of epic sweep and gritty intimacy: storytelling with emotional punch and visceral thrills.”

Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly
“Despite the high-tech stagecraft, director Alex Timbers remains faithful to the indie spirit of the 1976 Oscar winner that made a star of Sylvester Stallone. Rocky’s apartment is suitably dingy and the performances nicely understated, from buff and likable Karl (channeling Sly’s mumble-mouthed diction) to mousy Margo Seibert as Adrian, the pet-store wallflower who captures his heart.

Matt Windman, AM New York
“In effect, Rocky is the new Spider-Man, a similarly flashy and misconceived spectacle-musical that exists mainly to showcase an elaborate fight sequence as its finale.”

Steven Suskind, Huffington Post
“The Cinderella story, such as it is, is durable; and the sure-to-be-much-talked-about staging of the climactic boxing match more or less delivers the punch of excitement required. This despite score, libretto, staging and choreography that are unlikely to merit awards even in this thus-far lazy season for new Broadway musicals.”