Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Broadway Theater Review: Rocky

Margo Seibert and Andy Karl. Photo:Matthew Murphy
Stage Adaptation of Rocky Packs a Knockout Punch
By Lauren Yarger
Rocky the musical? If you are a fan of the 1976 movie starring Sylvester Stallone and Talia Shire like I am, you probably were putting on your boxing gloves and ready to challenge anyone who was going to mess with the story when you heard they were turning it into a Broadway musical. I know I was.

But I should have knownn I could trust Director Alex Timbers. I have loved everything this guy has helmed from Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, to  Here Lies Love to Peter and the Starcatcher, so I should have know that if anyone could make Rocky go 15 round son the stage, it would be he. He doesn't disappoint.

Stallone himself co-wrote the book with Thomas Meehan and they have added depth and dimension to some  characters while sticking close to the original film script, And the staging, with video design by Don Scully and  and scenic design by Christopher Barreco is a knockout. And that's before you hear the score by Stephen Flaherty (Ragtime) with orchestrations Stephen Trask and Doug Besterman that incorporate just enough of the "Rocky" themes from the movie to satisfy.

Andy Karl stars as Rocky Balboa, a down-on-his-luck, second-rate heavyweight boxer from Phillie who gets by being a strongman for mobster Gazzo (Eric Anderson). He gets a second chance when world heavyweight champ, Apollo Creed (Terence Archie), selects him for a gimmicky bout for the crown -- mostly because of Rock'y's catchy nickname: The Italian Stallion. Karl sounds a lot like Stallone and looks like him in costumes designed by David Zinn.

Rocky begins his training (yes, the eggs and the stairs are in there, movie fans, and even bring applause) and a romance with Adrian (Margo Seibert), the very shy, introverted sister of Paulie (Danny Mastrogiorgio), his meatpacking plant worker friend who looks and sounds a lot like Shire. ). Mastrogiorgio is the only miscast actor among the bunch. Helping Rocky train  is Mickey (Dakin Matthews), the crotchety, old manager of the gym who previously had thought Rocky was washed up. This championship bout is Mickey's ticket to the big time too.

And what a bout it is. The fighters parade down the house aisles in a theater that is transformed into the Philadelphia Spectrum, complete with  Flyers hockey banners and a Jumbotron. A portion of the audience relocates to stage seating and two audience sections stand cheering in the corners for their boxer. The rest of the audience is ringside as the staging moves out into the house and rotates. It's as nail-biting as the movie as the two boxers battle to stay standing through 15 rounds.

Choreography is by Steven Hoggett and Kelly Devine.Slow-motion technique and video projections designed by Don Scully and Pablo N. Molina and other special effects design by Jeremy Chernick enhance the storytelling.

The fresh book gives us insight into the relationship between Adrian and her brother and parents, as do some songs that Seibert gets to belt. We also find out that Rocky, Paulie and Adrian have known each other since grade school, which also gives further insight into the relationships. Stallone and Meehan even give us a few more female characters in the form of a couple of friends for Adrian and Gloria (Jennifer Mudge), a female interest for Paulie though their relationship isn't quite clear.

Though song lyrics by Lynn Ahrens provide helpful back story, other songs, like "My Nose Ain't Broken," contain hokey, silly phrasing with Rocky singing about the fact that his nose "works nice," "don't need no stitches" and "don't need no ice....." Karl was just under some notes the night I attended, as well.

Overall, a surprisingly satisfying night at the theater.

Yo! See it at the Winter Garden Theatre, 1634 Broadway, NYC.

Christians might also like to know:
-- Language
-- God's name taken i vain

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle. and the Episcopal Actors' Guild.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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