Just as the Academy Award-winning film it's named after did for filmgoers, Rocky the musical has been taking audiences for a surprisingly emotional and testosterone-drenched thrill ride since opening at Broadway's Winter Garden Theatre March 13.
But for the man immortalizing the role of the paparazzi-prone, prize-winning pugilist Apollo Creed on stage, Rocky being a hit on The Great White Way wasn't too much of a surprise.
"I know that a prevailing opinion of a lot of people is to think that it was a far-fetched idea when they first heard about it, but I necessarily wasn't thinking that way," Terence Archie told Playbill.com. "Broadway has had a lot of interesting and eclectic offerings over the years, so I wouldn't think that it's a particularly terrible idea to put 'Rocky' on Broadway, if you have the right musical team and the right people behind it."
The team, indeed: Mainly, Sylvester Stallone, who shot to Hollywood stardom as the writer and star of the original film in 1976. He's the lead producer of the show, its biggest champion and has been driving the train to get it to Broadway for years. With music and lyrics by Tony Award-winning collaborators Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens (Ragtime), book by Thomas Meehan (Hairspray), choreography by Steven Hoggett (Once) and direction by Alex Timbers (Peter and the Starcatcher), how can you go wrong? Andy Karl (The Mystery of Edwin Drood), who received a Tony Award nomination for his performance in the leading role, isn't too shabby either. Archie knew Ahrens from the 2009 revival of Ragtime, which was his Broadway debut. The Detroit native and North Carolina School of the Arts alumni originated the role of Creed in Rocky Das Musical in Hamburg, Germany three years before the Broadway production opened. He described his life abroad as a "fish out of water" experience. "It was probably the most humbling professional experience that I've had because it wasn't about my art so much, it was about my learning and me humbling myself to the process of learning another culture and learning the language," he explained. "I felt more like a student than anything over there. So that was the hard part and the most rewarding part."
|Photo by Joan Marcus|
Getting over the language barrier was one thing for Archie — who said all the studying in the world could never prepare anyone as much as being immersed in the culture physically will — but the act of emoting to German audiences was another. "When you're speaking another language, particularly on stage, you have to make sure that the audience gets your sensibility. It's not about just hearing the words spoken correctly, it's not just about hearing the intention and the history and the weight behind the words." As can be expected, he's is in tip-top, muscle-flexing shape as the flashy and debonair heavyweight champ. He should be; the title role in Second Stage Theatre's 2010 production of the Kristoffer Diaz play The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, where he played a professional wrestler, got him to his fighting weight. "That was actually not too different from Apollo Creed," he said. "I was about 20 pounds heavier and I was all muscle. When I started the boxing training, a lot of the weight just melted off because you move around so much. So I was able to find a comfortable weight to move around in. You don't have to be fast as a boxer, you just have to be a little bit smaller."
Performing in Chad Deity, he added, was what sealed the deal with putting him in the winners' circle to be cast in Rocky. "About three years ago, I got a very cryptic email from Lynn asking me if I sung in the R&B style, particularly the 70s style. At that time she didn't tell me exactly what the project was, but I told her that was pretty much all the music I still listened to this very day. And from that, one thing led to another and she called me up to the audition and I realized it was for Rocky and it just kind of took off from there I just had a couple of auditions and they felt that I was a good fit.
"She wouldn't have necessarily thought that I was the right person just from doing Ragtime," he added. "When she came to see Chad Deity, I think I was able to convince her that I would have the ability to play Apollo Creed."
Archie admitted, like many, to viewing the "Rocky" movies multiple times. But he hasn't since he started doing the show. "I probably saw 'Rocky' seven times over the years. It's one of those things that every time it comes on TV you gotta watch it. It's kind of like that Charlie Brown special around Thanksgiving — you just gotta watch it."
|Photo by Matthew Murphy|
During the early days of the production, he got to know Stallone. "He still has a great appreciation for the show," Archie revealed. "I met him three years ago during the workshop, and he was as enthusiastic about it then as he is now. He's certainly not shy about giving great workout tips or whatnot. He's a funny, kind of down-to-earth guy, he knows what he wants and he's still very passionate." And so, it seems, are the cavalcade of men filling up the seats at the Winter Garden Theatre, which during Act Two of Rocky is transformed into a full-scale championship boxing match (a boxing ring replete with a gigantic overhead screen with stats, scantily-clad ring girls, a referee and all the other trimmings).
Seeing so many men filing into the Winter Garden is a far cry from the demographic that used to pour into it to see Mama Mia! and Cats for what seems like an eternity.
"I would bet that a lot of those guys who end up seeing Rocky or who have even seen the movie over the years, they don't really come back to it because of the boxing and violence," Archie surmised. "I think more of them than they would like to admit are there for the love story and just the whole underdog story in general. There are only two fights in 'Rocky;' one in the beginning and one in the end. The fights only comprise 15 minutes of the movie. So they gotta be coming back for a certain reason.
"I think this show being called Rocky is a great excuse for seeing a lot of men out to the theatre who normally wouldn't come. They're crying right next to their wives — if not outwardly than more inwardly."