I’m not into boxing.
As I said to the woman in the seat next to me: I’m not into sports in which you are the most successfull the more you hurt your opponend.
(I know that kind of isn’t the case, but from my perspective…yes, it is!)
I’ve never seen the movie, or more like: the movies. And I really hadn’t any idea of what goes on on stage during Rocky.
Back in 2012 they announced that there would be a German production (kind of as the out of town try-out before the Broadway production), in Hamburg. I was more than sceptical, because (jump back to the beginning) I’m not into sports that include hurting each other – and since I love (musical) theatre so much (as we all know) I basically thought a musical about boxing was a terrible idea. I listened to the German cast recording and I was so embarrassed I really could not take it anymore. In my opinion the German lyrics are just horrible for the most part and that made my listening experience so uncomfortable I really wasn’t able to to listen to the actual music. – I’m not saying the German production itself is horrible, but I am saying that it doesn’t attract me enough to justify a trip north.
Anyway, fast forward to September 2013, New York City. I went to see the first of six concerts for Lynn Ahrens‘ and Stephen Flaherty‘s anniversary of their collaboration. About halt way through the concert (and a sip into my second glass of Grüner Veltliner) Liz Callaway sung “Raining” from the show. And I have to admit, even in German it is one of the stronger songs, but when she sung it, it suddenly clicked. A combination of the wine and the great location and the great guys we shared our table with and the English lyrics made me think: This is actually GENIUS!
Once more fast forward to March 2014, Theaterkind is preparing her trip to NYC. I’ve planned most of the show visits, but suddenly realize that there are Wednesday matinees happening on Broadway. I realize I have an open slot.
Wednesday, April 2nd, New York City. I really want to see Rocky (although Audra McDonald’s new show went up for 50% discount on TKTS that day) so I decide I want to take a chance at the lottery. 35$ tickets, Golden Circle, which means first and second row of the orchestra, centre. Turns out the lottery was not really packed with entries so everyone of us gets tickets. I am sitting right behind the conductor, front row centre next to incredibly nice people! (and I learn about their dog right before curtain. I get to see pics. Super sweet dog, also. And basically these small things are what makes theatrical experiences in New York so much different from what I experience here.)
Basically I spend the next two and a half hours right in front of the working, moving and rattling set, men who are – more often than not – bare chested and with muscles (oh BOY!) and a lot of pure (muscular) energy. And to be honest, it took me until “My Nose Ain’t Broken” (the second number) to get sucked in and from then on I literally forced to follow the plot. I just couldn’t keep myself from watching. In a way the set is like a huge machine from one of that movies dealing with the ‘fear’ of automated working – the set eats you, you can’t escape (at least that was the case where I sat). It is raw, very similar to the way Rocky is a raw character (on the outside) and boxing is a raw sport and it also made me feel like I was in one of these huge abandoned factory building taking photographs of rusty pipes and things like that.
Andy Karl as Rocky is (not only optical) a phenomenon – at one point he sings while doing a pull-up. (I can’t even do a pull-up, not to mention singing while doing one): He invites us to come along on his journey through the character of Rocky, we kind of get to know him, the slightly raw, not very smart guy he is, talking to his turtles – in a way naturally morphing into a song when he isn’t capable of expressing the things he wants/needs to express only by using spoken words (the most obvious example is his talk to Adrian through her closed bedroom door convincing her of going on a date with him.).
Having seen Violet just days before Adrian was the second female character on a musical theatre stage struggeling with her appearance (she is actually told by one of her friends, that she needs to wear a little make up, make something of herself! – the feminist was like “WHAT!?” for a second and thinking about it, I still am, but if she hadn’t been told that and if she hadn’t been somewhat seeing herself as ugly her character just wouldn’t make sense. At all.), but during the show she gains confidence (apparently through Rocky’s love for her – because that’s what happens to women, they are loved and then become a different person, again, the feminist comments: WHAT?!) that she stands up to her abusing brother, telling him not to spoil her and Rocky’s Christmas Eve and to go home. For me Margo Seibert in this moment plus her solo “I’m done” right after that is the strongest, most impressive moments of the show (you heard it, even the final fight can’t keep up with that).
Later that show we (those with the Golden Circle tickets) went on stage – right, me being one of the least ‘I’m gonna go up on stage!’-persons ever, on stage, at Winter Garden Theatre to watch a box fight? It happened anyway and it was very exciting, to step on that stage, sitting down on these metal benches, watching the ring (and feeling us) being moved towards the seats that had been ours. The fight was basically a continuous flow of clapping, cheering (how do cheer of people (pretending to be) hitting and hurting each other?), reminding myself that this is theatre, it’s staged, no need to worry, cheering again (for whom am I cherring anyway?) and the most amazing thing: Seeing other audience members from the rest of the orchestra assembling on the aisles, around the ring, to watch it. Just as you imagine a real box fight. For me it’s always the most delighting thing to see/feel the audience being involved in what they see.
Back to fight: It’s amazingly choreographed, just as with puppets taking the stage you forget that they are not REALLY hitting and hurting each other, you take it for one of the most energetic, ‘realistic’ moments of theatre. (you could definetely argue about ‘realism’ in theatre and if that even makes sense at all, but this is a whole other story.) And in a way it’s a joy watching it, the heat and the excitement. And yes, it shouldn’t sound as creepy as that sounds, but….well….it is just the way it is, right?
P., the lady sitting right next to me, told be by the end of the performance: I actually liked it more than I expected!
And yes, same here. Out of all shows I saw on Broadway this spring it was definetely the most surprising one.
Have you seen a production of Rocky – either the German or New York production?
What did you think?
I’d be delighted to read about your experiences!