Upon hearing the news that Rocky was closing, I was angry. I hadn’t gone yet, but was hoping to do so around the holiday season. Seeing as it wasn’t going to make it that far into the future, I thought, maybe it’s not worth it. There had to be a reason for its TKO off Broadway. Still, I had a nagging feeling of FOMO – fear of missing out – and I knew I couldn’t live with myself if I hadn’t seen first hand what it was all about and maybe determine why it’s going for good. There was no time to waste, so I bought myself a ticket. I wanted the full luxurious experience, meaning Golden Circle, (sounds good, right?! Very VIP!) but it wasn’t too easy to get seeing as there weren’t many available! Isn’t that ironic? As soon as it’s announced that the show is closing due to low ticket sales, BOOM! The tickets sell like hot cakes. I managed to snag one, and last Friday, it was fight night at the Winter Garden Theatre!
My view was near perfection! The Golden Circle was the first 12 or so rows in the center only. I was technically 3 rows from the stage, but the first row was really not much of one at all because it was separated for the Orchestra Pit. Plus, the seats were comfy with plenty of space all around! Man, I do love sitting up front. Once you spoil yourself with sitting up front or having amazing floor seats, you never want to be anywhere else. When I first started going to concerts, I would have been happy to just be in the building to hear the performer. Now, unless it’s an extreme emergency, I prefer not to be a bleacher creature; I want the elite upfront seat. I’ve worked hard enough to be able to enjoy that little luxury, so if I can, I try to get a good view. It’s a totally different experience watching from the top or far back than it is front and center. Unfortunate but true.
As I took my seat, I grabbed my red lanyard attached to the red and black Golden Circle pass and was super excited already! There was a really nice usher waiting until I and some other people sat down before informing us to wear the pass at all times and at the end of the Second Act, we would be escorted onstage to the bleachers. She also said grab all your stuff because you won’t be able to come back to your seats. I was so jazzed! When I went to Les Miserablés, I had the aisle seat right up against the stage, and I touched it, leaned against it, and sort of sat on it, just so I can say that technically I was on a Broadway stage. Well, that was nothing compared to this. This was a bonafide, standing on, walking across, then sitting onstage in front of a crowded audience and it was too much for my mind to handle! Cross this off my bucket list!
There was a huge black screen/curtain with ROCKY printed on it and a door was ajar letting smoke ooze out. Once it began, the familiar horns blared and the screen went up. There was a boxing ring right there, and Andy Karl as Rocky Balboa was fighting another muscled boxer in the ring!
Andy Karl, I remembered, was one of the good looking ones from Jersey Boys, another excellent show! He was also the hot delivery guy in the long ago cancelled Legally Blonde musical, which I never saw in person, but did catch an airing on MTV. He’s been in a bunch of other stuff as well, but that’s where I know him from. The guy is handsome, sings beautifully, and let’s not mince words here: I’m biased. The Rocky movie holds a special place in my heart because I grew up with people similar to the fictional legendary boxer. Rocky Balboa was Italian, had street swag, spoke with the accent I greatly enjoy, possessed smooth mannerisms and movements, and beneath it all, had a fighting spirit with a heart of gold. Sly Stallone originated the beloved character on film, and Andy Karl completely embodied Rocky Balboa in this Broadway production.
The opening fight was soon over and Rocky went from his white boxing shorts to being dressed in the grey sweats and black leather jacket, topped with the iconic black fedora hat. My first impression was ‘this is gonna be gooood!’ There were fit boxers fighting, sparring and exercising all over the stage…and looking damn fine doing so! It was pleasing to the eye, for sure! It didn’t take too long to imagine that Karl was Balboa, and you were rooting for him the whole way. As the musical progressed, my beloved movie came flooding back to my memory. It was a knock-out show. I loved the scenery. It represented the movie setting well. The costumes, the poor torn up apartment, the cute pet shop, the hanging meat in the butcher place, Paulie’s and Adrian’s house, Mickey’s Gym and the boxing ring were all authentic and realistic.
Five things I missed from the movie were “Take her to the zoo!”, the scene where the priest blesses Rocky in Italian, the criss crossing jump roping, chasing the chicken, and even though the big grand entrance of Apollo Creed was there, I would have loved to have heard James Brown’s “Living in America”. I was unsure how to feel about the three characters added to the show, Paulie’s ex-wife, Gloria, and her two friends, Joanne & Angie; their presence didn’t enhance the storyline, though they had comedic and tender moments. Still, I was left with a feeling of ‘where did they come from?’ Everything else was pretty accurate. Cuff and Link, “I ain’t got no locker,” the corny jokes like “shell shocked”, Rocky in a white tank top, Rocky in his street clothes and hat, Rocky in the tacky holiday sweater, Rocky doing a little snarl here and there, the Thanksgiving turkey throwing, the ice-skating first date, Apollo and his crew in furs, all the boxers with their glorious muscles, and the whole training montage was just unbelievably excellent. Excellent!
There was a bunch of guys in the hooded grey sweats and they all ran across the stage at different times to make it seem like Balboa was everywhere. I loved when the stage was dark and there was an alternating spotlight on a trio of Rockys. The two on either side were doing crunches, chin-ups, sparring or running in place, while the middle guy, Karl as the actual Rocky, was jump roping so well, but like I said, no fancy criss crossing! And the epic moment, besides the ending fight, was when he runs up the famous Philadelphia museum stairs! He does it twice; once only halfway to represent how he’s out of shape. The second time is when he’s in tip top form and all the hooded Rockys appear en masse to create a triangular formation where Andy breaks out and makes the climb all the way up. The gigantic stairway rotated to show him facing the crowd when he raised one arm up in the air at the top. What a triumphant feeling!
I gotta say, just as important as Rocky’s look, was his delivery of “Yo, Adrian!” I also loved when he leans in with one flexed arm to talk to timid Adrian, played by Margo Seibert, after their first date. I melt at that part in the movie, and the theatre interpretation was pretty darn good, too. 😉 I enjoy when the actors go into the aisles and this show had that feature. The reporters went into the audience and it was ‘telecast’ onto these giant Jumbo-tron tv screens on either side of the stage. They had a mock press conference where Rocky told his derogatory remark to Apollo about him being a great guy. Soon the First Act was done, lights went up and it was getting close to go time.
At intermission, we were reminded that security and ushers will come around about 40 minutes into the Second Act, which was 20 minutes till the end, to bring us up to the stage. No food or drink was allowed up there, and we were warned about not taking pictures during the performance, especially when we were on the bleachers, because security will take the device and delete the photo and/or throw you out, including at the end! This. Was. Devastating. I had amazingly close seats, the actors were rightthere, and I couldn’t snap even a shot of the bows?! Terrible! And how could I remember being onstage if I didn’t have a photo to remind me?! Devastating.
I decided to use the restroom before my “Broadway debut”, and the line was impossibly long. I hung back a little while, debating on going back to my seat, but I decided it was better safe than sorry. I had to push my way through because time was running out. The line for the ladies’ room was horrid. There was a theatre crew member who kept saying, “Relax, you still have time. Don’t worry, there’s plenty of time.” Well, at a certain point he stopped saying it, as the lady behind me observed to her friend, and then the gentle go-back-to-your-seat tones sounded! I finally got a stall, used it, washed my hands, and jogged out. The same theatre staff member said, “Don’t worry, there’s still time,” meanwhile, upon entering back into the seating area, another theatre guy calls loudly, “Take your seats! Especially if you’re in the Golden Circle!” I made it in time, but it was close! Dear Winter Garden Theatre, please make more stalls for the ladies’ room!
Alright, so the Second Act starts and I’m hype. I am having difficulty concentrating on what’s going on onstage because I can’t wait till I get onstage! I settle in, eventually, enjoying the Second Act, and then I lost my head a little bit because when Andy started cracking eggs into a glass, I couldn’t even know it. He really did the egg thing! That’s so gross! But it’s true to the film! Yuck! The lengths an actor will go to for an authentic performance! I read ahead of time how he does the 3 eggs at every show and God knows how many that adds up to. Bleh!
All of a sudden the big boxing match is about to happen. The boxing ring is center stage. The Announcer is in the middle of the ring with a booming voice and the background opens up to reveal the empty bleachers. It was at that point, I tossed my purse strap over my neck and sat at the edge of my seat, just waiting for the go ahead! The people in the Golden Circle started looking around at each other like, do we go up now? Where are the ushers?! Well, two seconds later, the lights go on over our area, and a flood of people in black, ushers with headsets on and guys in black jackets with white lettered Security on them, came scurrying down the sides toward the Golden Circle, propping up a railing to the stage stairs, and they motion for us to stand up. It was like a S.W.A.T. team came to rescue us from the mere Golden Circle to bring us up where we belong – onstage! They started gesturing and leading us up the steps.
I was taking in every single second, indulging in the momentous occasion. I climbed the stairs and soon enough, I was standing on the Winter Garden Broadway stage of New York. Allow me to repeat myself: I was standing on the Winter Garden Broadway stage of New York! That’s what’s up right there! I was in front of an audience. I can’t tell you how deliriously exuberant I felt! I may never sing and dance in a lead or as part as an ensemble, but in my head, this was just as good! I got to sit high up on the bleachers, second from the top and managed an aisle seat! What luck! The bleachers were more like a cool sturdy stairway behind the boxing ring and the steel announcer ledge. What we couldn’t see was the two commentators at the top steel tier, but it was a small price to pay for the awesomeness about to ensue.
The whole time the Announcer is vamping to the rest of the audience while the VIPs were still filling in the bleacher rows. I don’t even know what he was saying because I was in La-La Land being onstage. The ushers finally were able to get the entire Golden Circle on the stage and while the security lined the sides just offstage, two ushers sat right behind me on the top row. I tried to take it all in. From the back of the theatre, the Italian Stallion was introduced and Andy Karl in the silky blue robe comes down the aisle with his entourage, steps into the ring, removes his robe, (yes, please!) and recognizes the crowd with arms raised on all sides. When he hit us bleacher creatures, so to speak, it was joyous chaos! Apollo gets announced next, and the coming to America-esque intro was almost like the movie! The girls in American flag robes and tasteful bikinis paraded in front of Apollo, portrayed by Terence Archie, in full Uncle Sam garb, and he, too, stepped into the ring. When Apollo acknowledged the crowd, some of us, well me for certain, started cheering and applauding but the cameramen, Rocky’s cornermen, and the ushers behind us, gestured and jeered for the crowd to say boo! So it soon turned into booing and thumbs downing for Mr. Creed.
Ok, the boxing match was about to begin, we’re all focused on the center of the action and then…the whole stage, bleachers and boxing ring, jolted forward, into the audience below and over the seats we had just vacated! We were all like – WORD?! I had no idea we would be relocating courtesy of the stage! Some of us, me for sure, gasped out loud! The rest of the audience loved it, too. It was a trip! After that little thrilling adventure was done, the fight began and it was like a real boxing match! The people down below on the aisle seats were encouraged to go closer up to the ring. The bikini show girls walked into the action, in between Apollo and Rocky, holding the round number signs up and the choreography to the fighting scene was flawless. I often thought they’d get hit or stumble into one another, but nope! It was pretty smooth transitioning. The commentators up top sounded real, though we couldn’t see their faces at all.
There were several points where the action went slow-motion for dramatic effect. There was also a time where there was this red powder coming from Apollo’s gloves, I suppose to simulate blood. Just like the movie, Rocky had his moments of taking punches and hitting back hard! When those redemption moments occurred, the crowd was cheering, hooting and hollering as if it were a real match. Shouts of “Rocky! Rocky!” filled the air. Somehow, without me noticing it, Rocky’s whole head was soaked, and he looked like he was sweating like he was really exerting athletic heroics, or at least like he was Stallone in the film! In between bouts of punches, Apollo said his ribs were broken and Rocky said another favorite line of mine, “Cut me, Mick!” and Mickey, played by Dakin Matthews, squeezed this bloody thing on Karl’s face, right under his eye and he looked like he had been cut! The positioning of the boxing ring from our point of view was Rocky downstage (farther from us) in the right corner and Apollo upstage (closer to us) in the left corner. After awhile, just the boxing ring rotated so that Apollo was now downstage to the right, and Rocky’s corner was closest to us on the left.
When it was over, the final bell rang, (Ding! Ding!), the well-known victorious music played, and everyone was standing up, cheering, rooting for the underdog and chanting “Rocky! Rocky!”, fully exhilarated with what had just happened. The goal wasn’t in winning; the goal was in proving he belonged and could last the 15 rounds. He never gave up. Both movie and musical hit that target well. The winner was declared to be Apollo, just like the film, but no one cared because Andy Karl kept going from side to side of that square calling out for Adrian. I swear, it was like I was in the Rocky film. It was such a feeling of nostalgia mashed with I-can’t-believe-this-is-happening-right-now emotion. Adrian came onstage, in her white coat and red beret and the two kissed. It may be my love for the 1976 classic movie and character of Rocky, but I honestly feel this show was one of the sweetest musicals I’ve seen. One of the lines from one of the songs goes, “Rocky, fight from the heart!” Well, this musical was unmistakably all about heart, and Andy Karl was the perfect person to play the iconic role.
The actors took their bows, forming a circle in the ring, with the outer layer going around first, then the next set of people, and finally the stars of the show. They paid respect to all sides of the audience, and it was really touching. When they got offstage, the ushers slowly let the bottom bench exit first, leaving us up top waiting for our turn and watching as the theatre emptied. The ring and bleachers stayed in position, covering the seats we were previously in, so now I totally understood why we couldn’t go back to our original chairs! As we were filing out, some crew members were off to the side and asked “So, how was it?” I said, “AMAZING! Oh my God!” and I was telling the truth. I went down the stairs, thoroughly thrilled with what I had experienced.
I decided to stop by the Stage Door to pay my respects to the wonderful work they cast had done. I was happy but disappointed when I went outside. It was crowded, but not nearly as much as Of Mice and Men was. I had gone to see the Steinbeck play last month, and was caught in the frenzy afterwards of getting a Franco selfie. Obviously, James Franco and the rest of the cast were bigger names, however, the actors in Rocky did so much more work, physically, vocally, comedy-wise, with the added pressure of living up to an iconic movie, that I felt more people should have stuck around to give them their dues. Despite my annoyance of the lack of a super crowded gaggle of people, it was better for me because though once again snaked out of a spot at the railing, I was in a good position for the signing of my Playbill!
First out to a wave of cheers was Eric Anderson! He portrayed Gazzo and was super nice in signing and posing for pictures. The next round of applause came for Manager Mick, Mr. Dakin Matthews! He’s been in a bunch of stuff, I know I’ve seen him in, but here’s the most memorable one that I recognize him from. In the show King of Queens, starring Kevin James as Doug Heffernan, his father, Joe, was played by Dakin Matthews! He was such a cutie! I told him he was wonderful as I remembered the sweet song he sang about days gone by. Dakin looked me in the eyes and said “Thank you!” Matthews signature was the most legible of all the signatures, and I thought, my, how time has changed; even penmanship has taken a hit!
The door opened once again for the belle of the ball, Adrian! Margo Seibert is so pretty! She too was gracious and looked people in the eyes, signing and posing for pics. Apollo Creed, skillfully played by Terence Archie, burst out next. He signed in blue across the white Rocky lettering, which at first I thought was pretty brazen of him, and maybe taking his character too far! I mean, Apollo? Signing over Rocky’s name? As if to spite him?! But then again, he probably signed there because his marker was blue, and that’s where it shows up best. The entire time, I, like many others, had been taking pictures of the actors, and half-crazed selfies whether they were looking or not!
A few minutes afterward, the man of the hour, Andy Karl, walked out to a nice round of applause and cheers and he was so friggin’ adorable. I mean it, Mr. Karl is gorgeous. Really. Truly. Handsome as hell. Especially in person! His hair was dry and smoothed back, and he was in a fitted black t-shirt and black jeans. He came out smiling and embracing the crowd. When he got to my direction, I asked “Can I get a selfie?!” and he said, “Sure!” and I swear to God, if I don’t learn to take a proper selfie quick, like one of those stupid teenagers, in addition to getting a new iPhone, I’m just gonna stop trying altogether. He posed with his arm like he’s giving a punch and I snapped three quickly. For the record, that was his general pose, like a boxer, not because he found me irritating! I said “Thank you so much!” and he went on to take more pictures and sign autographs.
After snapping out of my star struck haze, it was at that point that I looked at my selfie shots and they were so stupidly blurry, I wanted to cry. I don’t know if it was me trying to snap fast, my nerves that shook the camera, or my phone being an old tattered, needing-to-be-replaced relic, but the results were not good. I decide to wait a bit to see if I could get the opportunity to ask for another. After waiting awhile for the crowd, I did, and he couldn’t have been sweeter! This poor exhausted guy who gives basically a physical and vocal work out every performance night, took the time to meet and greet fans after the show and did so with such a positive energy!
Standing next to the musical Rocky was a trip! He was much taller than Stallone, but just as handsome as Sly was in his hey day. I thanked him again, and headed for home, glad I made the right decision in seeing this near masterpiece. I couldn’t fall asleep until 3 a.m. due to the strong joy I had running loops in my mind! Seeing a musical that packed quite the punch, in a very VIP way, doing the Stage Door thing, and then getting face to face time with the main star…it was an exceptional night for me.
The next morning, I was angry. The show is being shut down. Gone for good. I don’t know why the musical is closing. I refuse to believe it’s from lack of interest. After all, this is a classic underdog story of a guy from the streets trying to make it and wasting his life away until he gets his one chance. Where else but NY (or Philly, since the original movie took place there,) would you expect to have such a show represented? People come here to make their dreams come true all the time, and lots of them are left floating as dust in the wind. We need a story such as Rocky to remain on Broadway, if only for a reminder of that.
The low ticket sales were probably due to the competition out there. Lots of other new productions have been forced to close. It’s logical. If you’re going to spend money to see a show, you want insurance that you get your money’s worth. By attending a tried and true long-running musical, you’re sure to be entertained. You know the reviews are good, maybe you even go because some of those shows have celebrities step in to draw in an audience. This leaves a new musical already at a disadvantage. You really have to have something special right off the gate to even have half a chance.
A perfect example is Wicked. It was once a new show, and it’s still running on Broadway because the songs are amazing and catchy and based on an iconic duo. Although Rocky is also based on an iconic hero, the big problem, I fully believe, was that the lyric book was not strong enough for this show to have a fighting chance. The actors can sing wonderfully, absolutely look the part and were able to take on their character’s persona. Not to mention the incredible great chemistry they had. It’s sort of an injustice to give the musical all the elements of secured success, actors, dialogue, creative technology and staging, and then throw them a bunch of terrible songs to sell to the crowd. You don’t come out of the theatre with a song from the show stuck in your head like you would from Mamma Mia or Les Miserblés.
The dialogue was pretty good and took nice bits from the movie. I didn’t think it was necessary to add characters, like Paulie’s ex-wife and two friends, but that wasn’t the main problem. They didn’t enhance the plot, but it didn’t take away from it either. This is an inspirational story of achieving greatness, facing your destiny; it has a beautiful love story between two people who feel like the odd man out. There was so much to work with, it’s almost criminal to not have at least one soaring love ballad like Phantom of the Opera’s “All I Ask of You” or an epic encouraging tune like Jekyll and Hyde’s “This Is The Moment” or Man of La Mancha’s “The Impossible Dream.” Who approved the songbook? It was weak. It just was. The best thing about it was the songs from the Academy Award winning Rocky movie that was interspersed throughout the musical.
Andy Karl was the perfect choice to represent the Broadway version of Rocky Balboa. Sylvester Stallone should be very proud that Andy fought a good fight, but he alone, even with the help of the other talented actors, could not create a bonafide hit. It’s such a damn shame. With the news of its looming final bell, the actors still came out, put on a brave face, provided an excellent performance and also gave back to their supporters by signing autographs, taking photos, and having conversations afterwards. Overall, I’d definitely say that the autograph signing went much better than the Franco experience. Yes, Franco’s a bigger star, and it’s because of this he came off as jaded from the massive crowds every night. A routine that perhaps grew stale for James, though it was fresh and exciting for fans. To meet someone who truly appreciates the support for incredible hard work was a marvel. They each looked you in the eye, and when they said thank you, they meant it. It wasn’t a brush off to get to the next person. It was unfair to have Rocky’s Stage Door half as crowded as Of Mice and Men’s, especially when these actors were nice, patient and in many ways, deserved it more. Of course, if the cast of the play spent the time to hang out at the Stage Door to meet with everybody, they’d be there for hours on end.
Still, I just want to express my gratitude to the champion cast of this top notch musical. I suppose it’s too late in the game for petitions or campaigning for salvation of this show. I wished it stayed running longer. I would have been thrilled to go back and see it a second, third or fourth time. It’s a story for the ages; kids, women & men can all find something to connect with. It’s unique in that it included audience participation. And though I treated myself to the Golden Circle, I bet I would have had just as great a time in a regular section. The jumbo-trons made you feel like you were at a real sporting event. The movie was brought to life and given more time, I KNOW more people would have been in their corner. It’s a travesty of epic proportions. Hopefully, somebody will rework the songbook and bring it back, perhaps for the film’s 40th or 50th anniversary. Or maybe it can find a residency in some place like Las Vegas. It takes it final blow on Sunday, August 17, 2014. You can’t keep a fighting spirit down. And the tale of Rocky Balboa is the essence of that fighting spirit.
Best wishes to the cast, who never gave up. You deserved far better. Here’s to the Rocky spirit in all of us!