Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
Rocky Balboa is a small-fry boxer and part-time muscle man who is afraid that he will never amount to anything more than just another kid from his South Philly neighborhood. He gets the chance of a lifetime when the heavyweight title holder needs a last minute opponent with a catchy name to step in for the title fight. Can the ultimate underdog hold his own in the ring with the undefeated champ? Or will Rocky embarrass himself, lose the girl, and go down for the count?
The musical is faithful enough to the movie to satisfy even the most die-hard film fans, but there are some good additions to the story as well. Rocky's childhood crush and soon to be girlfriend Adrian is more fleshed out than her on-screen counterpart. Gianna Yanelli's vocals are gorgeously robust, and her take on Adrian as sweet but struggling with self doubt is truly endearing. Adrian's brother and Rocky's best friend Paulie gets more of what's coming to him. Fran Prisco is detestably boorish and believably abusive as hopelessly self-centered Paulie. Heavyweight champion Apollo Creed is every bit as media savvy and bombastic but is a fiercer opponent. Nichalas L. Parker is not afraid to camp it up in this role, and his performance is one of the highlights of the production.
The best addition is Pauli's on-again off-again girlfriend Gloria. Rebecca Robbins lights up the stage with her energy and powerhouse vocals. The girl-power infused numbers that Robbins performs with Karissa Harris (Joanna) and Jenny Lee Stern (Angie) offer a fun, campy synergy that is delightful.
Roman Tatarowicz's meticulous set designs are dynamic and fun. Mary Folino has done an excellent job with the stylized 1970s style costumes. Director and choreographer Richard Stafford keeps up the pace, and though he makes sure the production never takes itself too seriously, some of the choreography is just too silly–the modern dancing in boxing gloves comes immediately to mind–even for this self-consciously campy production.
Matthew Amira's (Rocky) performance in act one is another weak spot. His singing is pitchy during the first couple of numbers and he seems unsure of himself at the start of the show. Fortunately, he hits his stride with the last song in act one and goes on to give a tenacious performance in the second act.
That second act culminates with with a boxing match that is as audacious and grisly as Philly itself. Come for the classic story, stay for the songs, and go out on a high note cheering for the bruised and bloodied underdog.
Rocky runs through November 6, 2022, at Walnut Street Theatre, 825 Walnut Street, Philadelphia PA. For tickets and information, please call 215-574-3550 or 800-982-2787 or visit www.walnutstreettheatre.org.
Production and Design Staff
* Denotes membership in Actors' Equity Association, the professional union of Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.