a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

I ended up really liking the musicalized version of “Rocky” even though for three-fourths of it I was scratching my head, thinking “Why are these people singing?”

But then its’ climatic boxing finale is a startling smasheroo if ever there was one, which really knocked my socks off and just about everything else off, too. “Rocky” will rock your world.

In a very pallid, uneven act and a half, I really wondered how in the world “Rocky: The Musical” could have displaced “Mamma Mia” out of the gigantic Winter Garden theater, one of Broadway’s biggest musical houses that has been held captive, by captivating its’ boomer audience for lo these many moons.

“Mamma Mia” fans, don’t worry. It’s been re-located to the smaller Broadhurst Theater on W.44th St. But “Rocky: The Musical” is gonna to settle in for another substantial VERY long run at the Winter Garden, and is going to make oodles of money and please sportsfans and boxing devotees for years.

Whether it pleases the critics or wins any awards is besides the point with “Rocky” which garnered a surprise Best Picture Oscar back in the day. This time it’s not going to need those awards, like the Tonys,etc. to keep running.

I liked the 1970’s grainy John Alvidson-directed indie movie that made Sylvester Stallone a star. And put the phrase “Yo Adrian” into the pop culture vernacular. Philadelphia’s mean streets then became a legitimate cinematic background, competing with the New York of Sidney Lumet & Martin Scorsese, etc. as a gritty urban backdrop.

And Stallone’s final victory lap up and down the massive staircase of the Philadelphia Art Museum was against all reason, truly inspiring.

“Rocky:The Musical” tries to stay as faithful to the film as it possibly can. But it has as its’ director the current wunderkind Alex Timbers, who has always surprised with his cutting edge innovative stagings of “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson”, “Peter and the Starcatcher” and many, many more theatrical delights of recent years. And he was disappointing me mightily this time, until the last twenty minutes and then he, as they say, brought the ship home.

I’ve never been to a boxing match and hope never to go to one in what’s left of my lifetime. I am NOT a sports fan. But “Rocky” (and I should’ve expected this) brought the Boxing Rink to me and deposited it (almost) right into my lap. And it was sensationally staged, catching every single moment of that sports’ gory excitement and thrill, whether I wanted it to see it THAT up-close and personal or not.

One can’t help but admire the sheer vocal and physical stamina of star Andy Karl as Rocky Balboa himself. The Italian Stallion lives! In Karl’s adept, buffed to the max performance that requires him to sing his heart out for two acts, down a glass of three raw eggs, and then pull off one of the most astounding coup de theatre’s I’ve ever seen in that climatic boxing number, which you’ll never forget. And sends you out of the theater humming. Well, if not the music, the boxing.But Kudos to Karl, for performing what seems on-paper, impossible! Maxima Kudos!

Of course, such a rough. tough, no-holes barred, physical fight that pits Rocky against the world champeen Apollo Creed (Terence Archee) has to be staged and choreographed within an inch of its’ life. And Kudos to fight director/choreographer Steven Hoggett. Now HE’ll win the Tony for his frighteningly life-like recreation of that most violent of sports.

I’ve never seen anything like it on a stage. On screen, yes. There have been great boxing movies like “Raging Bull”, “Requiem for a Heavyweight”, and “Rocky” itself and its’ many, many sequels. The list goes on and on. But never onstage.

And this is what director Alex Timbers has done to beat the band. You might forget the rest of “Rocky:The Musical”. I’ve already forgotten the music by the usually dependable Broadway veterans Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. Only one tune “My Nose Ain’t Broken Yet” stands out.

That comes at the beginning of the show and is reprised endlessly. Ingenue Margo Siebert makes a minimally impressive Broadway debut as Adrian, the plain pet-shop worker who is Rocky’s bizarre love interest. (She sold him his pet turtles, which he loves. Go figure.)

Played memorably by Talia Shire in all the movies and its’ sequels, in the greatest performance of her career, she grounded the borderline obnoxious character of Rocky, an aging, hard-luck amateur boxer and small-time thug.

Adrian is a famous character, as is the Italian Stallion himself, and Andy Karl, a theatrical vet, and she are a credible couple. Though their chemistry is passable. Nothing like the fireworks Shire and Stallone illicted onscreen.

Karl is NOT 29, as his character states, but he makes time stand still when he takes off his shirt and starts to box. TO THE DEATH.

Dakin Matthews has some nice moments and a nice song, too,”In The Ring”, as Rocky’s aged manager Mickey.

I can guarantee you’re gonna LOVE “Rocky:The Musical” but you won’t remember the hour and a half that precedes that unforgettable ending. But it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. And “Rocky” finishes BIG!

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