The story-line aligns closely with the movie about fighter Rocky Balboa (Andy Karl), a down-and-out boxer whose life is going nowhere until he is plucked from obscurity by undefeated boxer, Apollo Creed (Terrence Archie) to face him in a match for the world title.
Rocky has his eye on his middle-school crush, Adrian (Margo Siebert), a timid plain-Jane who works at a local pet store and lives at home with her domineering brother, Paulie (Danny Mastrogiorgio).
Andy Karl portrays the role originally created by Sylvester Stallone in the 1976 film with warmth and a believable simple-mindedness. He has a solid and pleasant voice that easily handles the vocal demands of the role. Siebert is charming as Adrian. She convincingly uses her voice and physicality to make the transition from church mouse to confident woman in love.
As Rocky's coach, Dakin Matthews' performance falls flat. The disappointed father figure the role calls for comes off as merely a man out for his own gain. Also, during the cleverly staged "Training Montages" you see Matthews making entrances from various disparate points on stage, first stage left, then over-head on a bridge crossing the stage, and then stage right sitting on a bicycle pulled by Rocky. Each time you know that he has just rushed to that location in time and you can see him thinking about his next move.
As Paulie, Rocky's buddy who works in the meat packing plant where Rocky goes to use sides of beef as punching bags, Danny Mastrogiorgio does an excellent job portraying Adrian's loser brother. Archie's Apollo Creed is a slick show-boater. As Paulie's girlfriend and Adrian's co-worker at the pet shop Jennifer Mudge is the perfect Jersey girl, Gloria.
Rocky has been artfully directed by Alex Timbers. He and choreographers Steven Hoggett and Kelly Devine have successfully accomplished the seemingly impossible task of turning a movie about boxing into a musical. The direction and choreography, combined with the genius of Christopher Barreca's constantly moving set and the video design of Dan Scully and Pablo N. Molina make the production flow brilliantly.
The fighting itself, while highly stylized, is believable and moves back and forth between real-time, slow-motion and stop-action. The lighting by Christopher Ackerland captures and abets these marvelously textured transitions. David Zinn's 1970's costumes capture both the down-and-out Rocky as well as the over-the-top glitz of Apollo Creed and his "Girls" to perfection.
Sadly, the weakest link in this musical is the music. The creators of such memorable scores as Ragtime and Once on this Island, Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens here created a score that is bland and at times insufferable, as when Mickey sings about his lost career, "In the Ring." What sounds like it might be the most insufferable song of all (simply by virtue of its title) turns out to be one of the most memorable, "My Nose Ain't Broken Yet," where Rocky sings to his pet turtles about how you can't count him out because his nose has not yet been broken.
In this incarnation, action hero turned book writer, Sylvester Stallone has teamed with musical-theatre veteran, Thomas Meehan to create a serviceable script that equally captures the drama, the heart and the comedy of the story.
In preparation for the big fight at the end, the boxing ring descends from the rafters and moves forward out into the house. With the assistance of the theatre's ushers, the first ten rows or so of the audience stand and move up on stage, filing into viewing stands upstage of the ring. Once the audience has moved, the ring moves further out into the audience. A scoreboard descends from the ceiling, camera men enter and the action in the ring is projected onto screens on stage and onto the scoreboard. A pair of television commentators narrate the proceedings from a box high above the playing area center stage.
The show culminates in a jaw-dropping final 10-minutes that are stunningly staged. With the fight scenes, at once elegant yet brutal, intertwined with the ring girls entering the ring with cards denoting the round, and the referee starting and stopping the rounds, it moves flawlessly through fifteen rounds and builds in excitement.
This is sadly not a great musical. But it does have enough going for it to be considered a terrific entertainment value (certainly more than Spider-Man). Even the harshest critic will find much to like here. Like the story-line itself, Rocky doesn't score a knock-out, but it does pack a punch.