It's 7 AM, and Andy Karl, who plays the title character of Broadway's Rocky, is already at the gym. The wiry, dark-haired man with absurd grace isn't exactly punching a side of beef — yet — but he is slinging kettle bells, performing military presses with 60-pound dumbbells and lifting upwards of 225 pounds.
Karl's long day of punching and being punched has just begun.
By 10 AM he'll be on his way to the Winter Garden Theatre where he is playing the iconic boxer Rocky Balboa in the musical — yes, musical — based on the Oscar-winning fight film "Rocky."
Sporting a real-life black eye earned during a rehearsal, Karl said, "This show is the most physical I've ever done, as far as what an actor has to go through emotionally, mentally and physically. I'm trying to stand up to the challenge of creating a character while punches are being thrown in my face. And some of them make contact."
Though he describes his natural physique as "more of a swimmer than a boxer," Karl has played studmuffin roles since he took over as the Elvis-inspired Rum Tum Tugger in a national tour of Cats in the 1990s. He's been a Broadway pinup since 2007 when he wowed the ladies playing the shorts-clad UPS hunk in Legally Blonde. Since then, he has played a variety of roles, including a stint as the charming Fiyero in Wicked, hot-tempered Tommy DeVito in the long-running Jersey Boys and earned a Drama Desk nomination playing the fiery Ceylonese murder suspect Neville Landless in the starry 2011 revival of The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
When the offer to do Rocky came along, "I sorta laughed. I think everyone has that reaction to Rocky being a musical. It's like, 'Are you kidding me? Really? What are you thinking?'"
But then he watched the original 1976 film about a struggling second-rate boxer who gets his one shot at a title when he's drafted to take on the world heavyweight champion, Apollo Creed, in an exhibition match. "I thought, oh, I get it. It actually is great for putting music in because there are so many moments when emotions are going on without their being spoken. Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty wrote beautiful songs for those moments. The first song I heard was 'My Nose Ain't Broken.' There are so many things that have gone wrong in Rocky's life, the one thing he holds on to is the fact that his nose was never broken. It's so right, so character-driven. It immediately felt right to me."
Creating the Show
The idea for musicalizing the story began with the film's original screenwriter and star Sylvester Stallone, who teamed with librettist Thomas Meehan (Annie, The Producers, Hairspray). After auditioning a variety of Hollywood and pop songwriters to do the score, Meehan suggested the veteran theatrical team of Ahrens and Flaherty, Tony-winners for Ragtime, whose dozen other scores include Seussical, Once on This Island, Lucky Stiff and A Man of No Importance.
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