Andy Karl plays this generation's Rocky — and this Italian Stallion can also sing. Credit: Matthew Murphy
After over two hours of lackluster development, “Rocky,” the musical adaptation of the film that put Sylvester Stallone on the map, bursts into glorious life as Rocky (Andy Karl), the Italian Stallion, meets his nemesis, Apollo Creed (Terence Archie), in a championship bout bristling with electricity.
Rocky, a two-bit palooka past his prime, got the match on a fluke. Undefeated Creed is his antithesis: smooth, confident and always flanked by three eye-catching Apollo girls.
Director Alex Timbers boldly thrusts the boxing ring into the orchestra for the match, dispatching affected patrons into on-stage bleachers. Rocky enters with modest fanfare. Creed, whose glittering Apollo girls precede him in full regalia, appears as a star- spangled Uncle Sam, with enough wattage to light up Philadelphia, where the musical takes place.
Once the fight begins, the tension and excitement never stop. Rocky starts out slow but soon finds his momentum as the boxers exchange blow after blow in a perfectly choreographed dance of destruction. It’s nothing short of spectacular.
A climactic climax is a good thing, but so is a buildup that builds up. “Rocky” is decidedly short on the latter. Rocky woos and wins girlfriend Adrian (Margo Seibert) and trains intensely for the fight, but there’s little dramatic spark. Rather than move the plot forward, songs seem to slow it down. Character traits are communicated with a sledgehammer. Rocky is dumb and Adrian shy, and, lest we forget, we’re told again and again. Savvy use of back-projections doesn’t help.
“Rocky”’s 20-minute finale is so exhilarating you might forget the flatness that precedes it. It’s a terrific payoff, but it comes at a cost.