Monday, May 26, 2014


Skepticism. How else can you approach a musical based on such unlikely subject matter? Rocky, the famous 1976 movie starring Sylvester Stallone as the Italian Stallion himself, isn't exactly material that sings. However, it was intriguing to discover that the wonderfully talented Tony winning Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty would be composing the show's score. After their stunning work on shows such as Ragtime and Once On This Island, I await everything they produce with anticipation. As unusual it was for Rocky to be used as material for a musical, it felt like the fantastic creative team would be up to the ambitious challenge.

But all considered, does Rocky actually work as a musical?

Yes. And no. Read on.

Rocky's score, consisting of gentle ballads and thunderous rock tunes, never quite hits the heights we desperately want it to. Pounding and percussive anthems clearly intended to get the blood pumping just kind of exist and don't affect. It's a perfect example of how up-tempo songs are not inherently energetic or exciting... and sadly, none in Rocky really are. Additionally, the score's shameless use of the obligatory Eye of the Tiger and Gonna Fly Now (the latter an overused motif), the two infamous songs from the movie series, make it clear that Rocky Das Musical is more or less trying to pander to fans rather than make something artful out of challenging source material.

It's not all bad, though. Faring much better are the softer songs in Ahrens and Flaherty's score. Margo Seibert is excellent and in fine voice as Adrian, Rocky's love interest. She sings Raining, a piano ballad that is genuinely beautiful and sung gorgeously. My Nose Ain't Broken, a country-flavoured tune sung by Andy Karl in the title role, has a pleasant melody and establishes an endearing quality in our protagonist. Karl also does great work in Fight From the Heart, another emotionally charged entry from the show's otherwise lackluster score.

There's not much else to say about Rocky, except that it's a rather disappointing entry from the usually worthwhile Ahrens and Flaherty. It's difficult to believe that the pair that wrote the powerful and emotionally overwhelming Ragtime are the same people that churned out this forgettable and lifeless work. Some songs I literally had to listen to immediately a second time because they had so instantly escaped my memory. Now, I'm never the guy who will judge a score's quality by whether or not I leave humming the melodies, but only if that music has affected me on a gut emotional level like its meant to. Rocky doesn't do this.

In the end, some songs are worth checking out and even purchasing. But the full cast recording? Think twice before forking over the cash. Rocky fails to pack a punch.

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