They came to see the fight. And Director Alex Timbers and his technical wizards and designers gave them a fight to remember! The appreciative audience was TKO’d with the most dazzling special effects the Winter Garden has seen since those Jeliccle cats hopped all over the stage in that purr-fect Andrew Lloyd Webber musical that packed in the tourists in this iconic theatre for 18 years. And now, I predict, The Winter Garden will be packed to the brim once again with nostalgic-seeking theatregoers who want to retake that journey once more with ‘The Italian Stallion’- their Everyman – as he attempts to go the distance with the undefeated Apollo Creed.
You rooted for the local Philly hero in the movie and now you will root again for him in the theatre. Although Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty have not written another musical score for the ages here (they already have accomplished that with their Tony Award-winning score for Ragtime); they have written a softer and simpler score for a simple man and his shy girlfriend, and it works quietly and effectively. And two of these songs show why Ahrens and Flaherty’s work is so well-respected and so often performed. “I’m Done,” shows Margo Seibert’s vocal beauty and power and the audience agreed by giving Seibert a long and loud applause. One overly-excited audience member yelled out, “You tell’em Adrian!” And the duet “Happiness” with Andy Karl is a sweet song that expresses the ever-growing love this new couple shares.
They came to watch Rocky and Apollo fight to the finish and they got a battle in the ring they will never forget. And I saw a lot of new theatergoers (several told me it was their first Broadway show) tightly holding hands hoping that by some miracle of adapting a movie to the stage- they might finally change the ending. And even though they knew what the ending would likely be they were still involved from the get-go, and that is the success of this production. They were so thrilled that many of them videotaped the fight and sent it back to their friends and family instantly. (Is there an usher in the house who can stop these people please?)
When I asked the couple behind me what they thought after the show they said, “It was the date of a lifetime!”
And you should have scene the pure joy and excitement the ‘patrons’ in the front rows-the gold ticket holders -had when they were treated like royalty when they were asked to leave their seats and move onto the stage into bleachers so they could have a close-up seat at the fight of the century. I can’t remember when I saw families beaming like this in the theatre in years. This show’s got heart.
Super-buffed Andy Karl and lovely Margo Seibert have great chemistry and deliver convincing performance without impersonating their movie cohorts.Then there is the grumpy Dakin Matthews as the pathetic schlumpy manager Mickey who begs for and gets that second chance, and Danny Mastrogiorgio who plays the no-good-nick brother-in-law Paulie who you like to turn into a eunuch. The super-built and muscle-layered Terence Archie plays Apollo Creed in a more burlesquey way here-less menacing. It’s hard to hate this fun-loving boxer who is going to knock the pulp out of Rocky because he’s like water-downed ketchup you find in some diners, but you are happy when Rocky demolishes the ‘cuff and link’ out of Apollo’s face.
The talented and hard-working cast does their best with what co-book writers Sylvester Stallone and Thomas Meehan have given them with their rehash of Stallone’s Oscar-nominated script. Not much has changed, and listening to the audience that surrounded me – they were quite happy it didn’t. They wanted to see the Rocky they loved before and they got it, even to the echoes of Bill Conti’s famous theme from the film, the song “The Eye of the Tiger” and that famous running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art with his hands outstretched in victory!
What did you expect?
And once again we come to the incredible fight staged brilliantly and jaw-droppingly designed and staged by Director Timbers, Set Designer Christopher Barreca, Choreographers Steven Hoggett and Kelly Devine, Lighting Designer Christopher Akerlind, Costume Designer David Zinn, Sound Designer Peter Hylenski and Video Designers Dan Scully and Pablo N. Molina. You gotta see it to believe it!
And the winner is… any Rocky Balboa die-hard fan, especially if he or she is sitting in the first 8 rows of the orchestra!
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, including one intermission.