Richard often gets free tickets to a Broadway show in previews - - he has friends in the business, which is helpful. Plus there’s always a reception before with free drink and nosh. The best show we’ve seen for free, as part of this shtick, was *Cinderella*, the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. Couldn’t have been cuter, and some surprising tweaks to the plot. The worst show was *Scandalous*, the musical that Kathie Lee Gifford cowrote about radio evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson. The lights came up at intermission and Richard asked me, “How do you like it?” I said, “I can’t run out of here fast enough.”
I was sure we would be leaving at intermission for *Rocky: The Musical*, but it turned out to be a very professionally done show, very good for what it was. It was a Triumph of the Human Spirit musical, and you can guess how I feel about that. There were many, many moments in the show where I was swept up in the manipulation, and brought to tears, but my tears were always accompanied by a wave of nausea. “Did I seriously fall for that?”, over and over.
I’ve never seen the movie, so I was a little worried that I might not be able to fully appreciate the Broadway musical. I needn’t have worried, it couldn’t have been spelled out any plainer. Bad news first: the songs are often pretty bad. Rocky’s first song, “My Nose Ain’t Broken”, is sung to his pet turtles, and the opening line is “I got ten sore knuckles and a ringin’ ear / And a bruise over here, and over here, and over here”. You get the picture. The low point of the show was the show-stopping number for Apollo in the first act. He was in his agent’s office and they were trying to come up with someone for him to fight, and they decided on Rocky. This is not what I’d call a good moment for a show-stopping number, but clearly the creators of the show thought, “Apollo has to have a show-stopping number, so let’s put it there. We’ll add some hoochie mamas and have everybody dance around a lot.” Did I hear a thud?
On the plus side, the performances were very good. The guy playing Rocky did the unthinkable: he made sense of the fact that Rocky breaks into song. Kudos to him. The girl playing Adrian was very good, and the two of them had good chemistry, their love story was touching and sweet. The guy playing Apollo Creed was actually the understudy to the usual guy, and he was good. I have to say that all the boxers in the show had KILLER bodies. They were a pleasure to watch.
The star of the show was the set. The tone of the show was cinematic, with lots of montages, wipes, pans, and even a close-up at the end of the show, and the set made all that possible. It seamlessly moved around, converted, did everything they wanted it to do without drawing too much attention to itself. There was an exciting montage (using video projections, maybe using actual footage from the movie) in the second act, done to “Eye of the Tiger”. Rocky was jogging around Philadelphia in a gray hoodie and gray sweatpants, and then another Rocky (dressed identically) came onstage jumping rope, and another Rocky boxing, etc. Eventually there were eight or ten Rockys onstage. Of course this number had to culminate with him running up the steps to the museum, and even though on the one hand it delivered emotionally (this is an iconic moment), on the other hand it was diffused by the staircase itself looking so cheap!
The apex of the story is, of course, the fight between Rocky and Creed, and the staging couldn’t have been more impressive. A group of ushers came out and started leading people in the first six rows of the center section onto the stage, to sit on the museum steps behind the ring. I thought this was a cute touch, that people would be given that option, but it quickly became clear that it wasn’t optional - - everyone in that section had to move to the stage because the whole ring moved out off the stage and onto those seats in the audience. It was pretty damn thrilling, it put the whole audience right there ringside. And they had that four-sided TV monitor thing over the ring, like they do at actual fights. I was concerned with how real the fighting was going to look, and it was pretty believable.
One last observation: Rocky drinks three raw eggs at the start of the second act. Is that poor actor going to have to do that eight shows a week? That’s twenty-four eggs a week, over the course of a year (if the show runs that long, which I think it will), that’s over a thousand raw eggs. Blech.