Reviewed by Carlos Stafford The Model Critic

POW!  The famous Rocky body shot is once again delivering its victorious hook–this time the well-known franchise brings its dazzle down from the big screen and onto the great white way.  Don’t worry, all the familiar characters are still there, bigger than life from
R1–Rocky, Adrian, brother Paulie, Mickey the trainer, to the bombastic Apollo Creed.

Losers, has-beens, never-weres, drunks, dreamers, and loan sharks are all melodramatically moved off their spot by The Rock’s big break–a long shot bid to fight a superstar in an exhibition bout, and make $150,000. But it’s not about the money only.  Rocky is no Marciano, (48-0), but he bleeds his spirit as a tough, determined Everyman fighter capable of imaging the improbable, impossible dream. Not to win necessarily, but to ‘keep on standing’ against all odds, with pride and dignity. Then Magic, Alchemy, Wonder, and Inspiring Love changes everyone and everything.  Rocky needs a knockout to get a draw, but there’s a bigger story.

The show is two hours plus of nonstop visual and aural fun. Bold and garish, splashes of grit and grime, the story quickly unfolds and hits you in the emotional gut.  For its easy to see we all share a part of these caricatures, of those lying in the gutter while staring up at the stars: a modern-day fairy tale, under the rubric of every dog has its day  Those of us waiting for one break to set things straight, and in Rocky’s case, inspired by the love a woman.

This isn’t La Traviata for sure, but a guy running through the streets of Philly on a cold, 23 degree dark morning, alone, against all odds, with old-school grey cotton hoody and Chuck Taylors, conveys great symbolic determination.  If you don’t feel lifted, you need emotional eye-of-the-tiger, by-pass surgery.

Adrian Aguilar was our Rocky for this evening.  He was splendid in his acting, singing, and sparing routines, and finally, for boxing the simulated 15 championship rounds to the exacting choreography. Wow! He apparently based his character entirely on Sylvester Stallone’s movie and looked, spoke and acted pretty much like the original character–he didn’t create other layers, it wouldn’t have worked. He had to box like a journeyman club fighter, and deliver the intricate brawling fight choreography. He succeeded.

Here, the story builds and builds to the final slugfest, where a real life ring rolls out onto a glittering arena, along with flashing lights, loud music, ring girls, newsmen on monitors, and voila, the audience is transported to a glitzy ringside Vegas-like intensity.

Margo Seibert was the introverted and sensitive Adrian, and startling effective in her quiet, insecure character, as well as with her sweet voice and moving songs, Raining and with Rocky in their duet Happiness. Her blossoming from an alone and forlorn outcast, to raw seduction with Rocky, was a moving journey.

Terence Archie ( Ragtime) was awesome as Apollo Creed–brash and arrogant, slick, smooth and flashy, and sang well in Southside Celebrity.  Archie must have boxed before because he naturally possessed a fluidity that cannot be coached in any style or movement class. He was a very effective and believable slickster.  Danny Mastrogiorgio was good as Paulie, a complex, violent character, and Adrian’s troubled brother; while Mickey the trainer, played by Dakin Matthews, a compromised man who had seen too much of the underbelly of pugilistic life, but also wise enough to sense new opportunity, was notable in his portrayal.

Don’t worry about getting tickets fo this show, this horse is going to run for a long time. Having just opened, I predict this show will be a destination event for all those coming to NYC. (It won’t go on the road, is my best guess, because of the intricate technological staging, as well as expense.) The songs are not over the top, but perfect and moving for the characters, and delivered with great, natural feeling; however, the book, incredible staging, and electric pacing are the star elements that lift this show to greater heights.

The show has the recognizable buzz, part comic book, carnival, and spectacle all aimed at the hoi polloi—but at heart, a simple, winning love story, deep and essential, so that afterwards you feel washed and inspired for having been there, and ready for any challenge.

Playing at the Winter Garden
Directed by Alex Timbers
Book by Sylvester Stallone and Thomas Meehan
Music by Stephan Flaherty
Lyrics Lynn Ahrens

Recommended for ages 10 years and above

Run time is two hours and 40 min, including one 15-min intermission