On Thursday, February 13th, the new musical version of Rocky premiered on Broadway in New York City, and some 1,500 effusively enthused Rocky fans–including Sylvester Stallone, Tom Hanks, and Paul Rudd–braved the cold, slushy mess that was Manhattan to see it. I was one of them.
To be quite clear, Thursday night was a preview of Rocky, which officially opens on March 13th. Not only was it a preview, it was the very first public performance in New York for the Rocky Broadway show. Tuesday night was originally to be the first, but electrical problems caused by (what else?) salt and melting ice forced a cancelation. Before the curtains went up on Thursday night, an announcement came from the stage that the show was being run off of a generator and that an interruption was possible.
But there were no interruptions, just a handful of glitches you might expect at the very first public performance of a show.
Rocky the musical is as much an underdog as “Rocky” the character in Sylvester Stallone’s 1976 film. When I told friends that I was going to see the Rocky Broadway show, they didn’t seem very excited. Eyes rolled.
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The Rocky film franchise started off with a huge Oscar-winning bang in 1976 and then slowly descended into the sequel abyss (remember Paulie’s robot in Rocky IV?) until redeeming itself with Stallone’s well-crafted 2006 movie, Rocky Balboa. The original Rocky is as iconic a Philadelphia film as we’ve got, a gritty love letter to our city, and now Stallone has decided to turn it into a piece of musical theater? Believe me, I understand the suspicions.
But Rocky on Broadway wins in the end, and the show is poised to be a huge hit for Stallone and director Alex Timbers, who previously received a Tony nomination for his rock musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.
Leads Andy Karl (Rocky) and Margo Seibert (Adrienne) deliver, um, knockout performances, and Seibert’s emotional solo “I’m Done” (her musical response to brother Paulie being an insufferable drunk), is the biggest showstopping moment of the two-act play. Rocky is a life-altering moment for Seibert, her Broadway debut. And she embraces it with passion.
Other musical highlights include “My Nose Ain’t Broken” and “Fight From the Heart”–both sung by Karl–and dirty rock-funk number “Patriotic”, performed by Terence Archie, who proves to be an entertaining Apollo Creed.
For more of a taste of the songs in the Rocky Broadway show, check out this preview:
But the real stars of this Rocky Broadway production are found behind-the-scenes. The set design under Chris Barecca is nothing short of extraordinary, a bewildering amount of moving pieces and stunning stagecraft. I’ll leave it at that. No spoilers. But be prepared to be wowed.
My $150 seat was in the “Golden Circle”, a premium front-and-center seating area. If you buy a Golden Circle ticket, you should know that you will be escorted onto the stage for the climactic fight scene that ends the show. Some will enjoy the novelty of this immersive theater moment. Some won’t. (My best advice: go for 10th row center or the mezzanine.)
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And one thing that true Rocky and Philadelphia purists are really going to hate: South Philadelphia is known as Southside in the musical. I assume that Stallone is well aware that the folks at 10th and Wolf in South Philly aren’t going to be too happy about this, but the choice was, no doubt, a lyrical necessity. The song “Southside Celebrity” wouldn’t work quite as well lyrically-speaking if it were “South Philly Celebrity.”
After his actors took their well-deserved bows, and with the standing ovation continuing, Stallone himself popped into the ring.
“It’s kind of hard to find things in your life that are really exciting after what I’ve been through,” he said. “I’ve had an incredible life. Actually, I was born nine blocks from here. It only took 67 years to get here, which shows you how Rocky moves slowly. But we got here. And what’s more important is, this character, I had no idea when we wrote this how this would turn out and that [these actors] would bring these characters to life in a way that I could have never imagined. Yo, New York. I love you!”
Here’s video of the complete curtain call:
See Rocky Broadway at the Winter Garden Theatre. Previews continue through March 12th. Opening night is March 13th. Tickets are $79 through $250.
PHOTOS: Victor Fiorillo for Philadelphia magazine