Some Rocky moments in a new Broadway musical

Posted: February 21, 2014

NEW YORK - Sylvester Stallone is squeezing the Rocky lemon dry. He keeps it up, he's gonna wind up with nothin' but a fistful of seeds, which he probably will drag home to Southern California and plant an orchard near Palm Springs and start selling lemon punch with Rocky Balboa's mug on the label.

But right now, Sly has $16 million of OPM (Other People's Money) invested in "Rocky," a big, loud Broadway musical that opens March 13 at the Winter Garden Theatre. Spent a huge chunk of that dough on scenery that includes a rectangular ring that slides out into the theater, displacing the people in the best seats in the joint. So they shuffle onstage and sit in bleachers for that last scene, the championship fight against Apollo Creed, choreographed right down to the last bloody eyebrow twitch.

That rectangular ring is right up there with the chandelier in "Phantom" and the helicopter in "Miss Saigon" for memorable musical props. But if the people leave the theater humming the scenery, you ain't got much of a musical.

Hold on there, greasepaint breath. You keep saying rectangular ring. Ain't boxing rings square? Squared circle and all that jazz? Uh-huh, but they made this one rectangular, maybe 15-by-21. At one point in that cartoonish fight, with the ring card girls dressed in little more than broad stripes and bright stars because Philly is celebrating the bicentennial, even though the fight is on Jan. 1, so where are the Mummers, slithering between the fighters to indicate a new round, the stagehands shove the corners and the ring swivels, and you get a different perspective and some new respect for the braggadocios Creed, who fights on despite busted ribs.

And then it's over and they omit the memorable lines from the movie. Creed, through puffed lips, grumbling, "Ain't gonna be no rematch!" And Rocky, his face lumpy and bloody, grunts, "Don't want one!!!"

If you saw the movie more than once, you will like the musical. If you saw the movie more than twice, you will love the musical, even if you squirm during the stuff they've added, and mourn the stuff they've deleted. And, oh yeah, it's OK to bring the missus, because somewhere along the way, they've added a subtitle. "Love Wins."

Love wins? Love wins? If love didn't win, it woulda been the greatest upset since Buster Douglas kicked the spit out of Mike Tyson in Tokyo. Rocky and Adrian are meant for each other. You knew that the first time Rocky shambled into the pet shop and told that joke about pounding his turtles on the back when they were choking on moths.

All together now, what did the turtles get? "Shell shocked," that's what they got, and it still gets a laugh 38 years later.

Yo, most of the dialogue is so wooden, you get splinters listening to it. Remember in the movie when Adrian shyly asks Rocky why he became a fighter? He grunts, " 'Cause I couldn't sing or dance."

In the musical Rocky sings and dances, which is a real challenge for the audience accustomed to the lug from South Philly doing fractured sentences with a mouthful of gravel.

Andy Karl is terrific, singing his eyebrows off. Margo Seibert is Adrian, handling the metamorphosis from shy caterpillar to fluttering butterfly gracefully. And Terence Archie gets to show off his booming voice as Creed.

There are some tricky scenes in which Rocky runs in place and the landscape rumbles by, so it looks as if he's running along the waterfront and under the El and through the Italian Market, even if the black-and-white shots of the Italian Market musta been shot 60 years ago.

They roll out the Art Museum steps and Rocky runs 'em and then poses at the top, arms aloft. This is after he drinks three raw eggs for breakfast. Three, not six. Eight performances a week, that's two dozen eggs they're saving. You checked the price of eggs these days?

They cheat a little when they identify Rocky as coming from South Side instead of South Philly. They coulda made him the Prince of Pash-yunk, and lots of things rhyme with Pash-yunk, like hunk and chunk and dunk. Even punk and drunk, two things Rocky does not wanna be.

They kept that theme, thank goodness. Rocky does not wanna be a bum on the street. He wants to go the distance with Creed, which nobody has done till now. There's even a song in the show called "Keep on Standing," which is Pennsylvania Dutch for going the distance, I guess.

He goes the distance and jumps on the ring ropes to holler, "Adrian!" and she comes chugging down the aisle and into the ring for a long, emotional smooch.

In the movie, somebody snatches that red beret off her love-smitten head on her way to the ring. She shoots the scoundrel what John Chaney used to call his "one-eyed Jack stare" and keeps moving. Who, sitting ringside, would steal the beret off a woman's head? Was Stallone saying, "Only in Philly"?

Yo, who knows, who cares? Stallone has squeezed five mediocre sequels out of a terrific movie, and now, thanks to OPM, he has a musical on Broadway that employs 22 actors and 14 musicians and a squad of stagehands to push that rectangular ring around.

Don't bet against him.


Email: stanrhoch@comcast.net.

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