PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Rocky Ringside at the Winter Garden

By Harry Haun
14 Mar 2014

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"I always thought 'Rocky' was a great love story," he said, "that it had a romantic and musical feel about it — music in 'Rocky' is so important — but never in my wildest imagination — when you let go and have this new theatre group of writers and directors and lyricists and, of course, Andy and Margo — did I think they would take the characters to a new high. I feel like I've been through 15 rounds myself."

The conclusion of the play is constant, rather chaotic music composed by Stephen Flaherty. "The entire fight actually uses themes from every song in the score," he pointed out. "It's as if the entire show is being filtered through Rocky's consciousness as he is being punched in the ring. I wanted to get inside his head.

"One of the cool things is we've been doing a lot of work with the taiko drum, which is an ancient warrior drum, That was so much fun because you feel it viscerally."

And the most fun he had doing Rocky, said Flaherty, "was working on the final fight because it was a true collaboration among all of us, all my fellow theatre artists who are trying to make something that pushes the envelop of what theatre can do and, also, tells it in such a musically dramatic way. It just explodes in that moment."

The out-of-town work on Rocky was done out of continent, in Hamburg, Germany, and lyricist Lynn Aherns insisted she didn't mind her words Germanized. "I actually loved it, and I loved the whole translation process," she trilled. "I could sing them all in German, and I was told I had a brilliant German accent. The German tryout was invaluable. We got to mount the show and get a good look at it and edit and rewrite in a country where no one could understand the language. We were really out of the critical eye. It was very relaxing and very productive to do it there."

For her, the hardest number to write was "Ain't Down Yet," which opens the show. "We didn't want to write a traditional opening number — we also didn't want to write a traditional anything. We wanted the scenes to move from the first brutal fight into Rocky's world and locker room and finally his home. And our major goal there was the just keep the music going and keep the words going in a naturalistic way."

As you might imagine, Ahrens had to hit the research books hard for Rocky. "The boxing world was certainly new to me," she admitted. "In fact, I knew nothing about it. Hurting people and making them bleed in public were certainly not my thing, but I have to tell you I have a very healthy respect for the sport. I really do."

The next Aherns-and-Flaherty musical, with book by their Ragtime book writer Terrence McNally, will be closer to her universe. "It's called Little Dancer, directed by Susan Stroman, and it will be at The Kennedy Center this fall. September we'll start with Boyd Gaines, Rebecca Luker and Tiler Peck, who's a big star of the NYCB."

Stallone shares two hats with this musical — co-producer and co-book writer. He is partnered for the latter with Thomas Meehan, a seasoned veteran of turning movies into musicals (The Producers, Young Frankenstein).