This past weekend, Sylvester Stallone was in Hamburg, Germany for the world premiere of “Rocky, Das Musical,” the stage adaptation of his iconic 1976 Oscar-winning film. The opening on Sunday night, November 20, was the culmination of the actor’s eight-year odyssey to see his film made into a musical. Both Stallone and the German critics gave the musical an enthusiastic thumbs up.
The prestigious Spiegel Online announced “The competition among musicals is tough, but this boxer epic can win” and went on to award the musical “a victory on points.” This includes a technical coup de theatre featuring a bloody boxing finale in a regulation 20’ x 20’ boxing ring. Bild, Germany’s largest newspaper headlined, “‘Rocky’ Knocks Hamburg Out!” and The Hamburger Morgenpost called it “a triumph.”
The European-based Stage Entertainment Company is co-producing the show at Hamburg’s Operettenhaus with Stallone and Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko, sibling boxing stars from the Ukraine. Even though the show is performed in German, it was originally created in English by a largely American creative team, including director Alex Timbers (“Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson”), librettist Thomas Meehan (“Annie,” “Hairspray”), songwriters Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (“Ragtime”), and actor Drew Sarich who plays Rocky Balboa. Wietske van Tongeren, a Dutch actress, plays Adrian, the mousy pet store clerk who wins Rocky’s heart.
The producers are emphasizing the love story. The official title is “Rocky, Das Musical: Fight from the Heart.” After all, even in Germany, the theater ticket buyers are largely women. And while Ahrens and Flaherty have written some romantic ballads, the critics effusively praised the physical aspects of the show, which soar on two of the songs — “Gonna Fly Now” and “Eye of the Tiger” — which are from the “Rocky” film franchise. Staging the movement is Steven Hoggett who has wowed audiences with his work on “Once,” “Peter and the Starcatcher,” and “American Idiot.” But he was probably held in best stead by previously staging the military fights in “Black Watch.”
Sarich is an American-born actor who first went to Germany to star in Disney’s musical adaptation of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” in Berlin in 1999 and remained to develop a career and start a family. He returned to the States to star in the ill-fated “Lestat” on Broadway and in the 2006 revival of “Les Miserables.” In Germany, he has since played such leads as the title role in a recent revival of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” And in 2009, Sarich co-starred in Vienna with van Tongeren in Frank Wildhorn’s “Rudolf: The Mayerling Affair,” about the fateful murder-suicide of Rudolf, the Crown Prince of Austria in 1889.
Given the critical and audience response to “Rocky,” the show may come to New York sooner rather than later. No decision has been made as yet, but it is likely to be seen on Broadway next year.
Image: Wietske van Tongeren and Drew Sarich in “Rocky, Das Musical”/© STAGE Entertainment 2012