The Hamburg production of the musical "Rocky" is now also on Broadway in New York - a point of pride for the Germans behind it. But reactions are mixed when it comes to this first-of-its-kind musical export.
"I love the music, my role and the show! It's the best one I've ever done," gushes "Rocky" performer Andy Karl. He is exhausted but happy while standing at the artists' exit of the Winter Garden Theatre.
For more than two hours, Karl had just loved, fought, boxed and - of course - emerged victorious on the stage of the famous Broadway theater. From lonely underdog to celebrated star - it's been a long and exhausting path to the performer's biggest role yet.
Karl says he feels somewhat humble in putting on stage the iconic figure from Sylvester Stallone's "Rocky" movies, who has worked its way into the collective consciousness of generations of film-goers. Rocky is a very humble person, after all, says the headlining actor, adding that he's out to convey the protagonist's humanity to the audience.
'Re-import' to New York
The story of the musical version differs little from the 1976 film classic. It tells the story of boxer Rocky Balboa as he struggles with his loser image and loneliness. He's shocked to get the chance of a lifetime by way of boxing against champion Apollo Creed, whose flamboyance is brilliantly captured by Broadway actor Terence Archie.
And Rocky pulls off the impossible, achieving a victory against Creed and winning over the heart of the woman he's been seeing along the way: Adrian, played in this production by Margo Seibert. Sylvester Stallone made it to the Broadway premiere in mid-March. As with the film version, he had to search for a long time to find the right theater for the musical. Ultimately, the work premiered in Hamburg. Along with Stallone, the boxing Klitschko brothers are also financially active there.
The Broadway performances are taking place parallel with those in Hamburg, which are set to continue. Neither the New York or Hamburg shows are expressly German productions. The main actors and musical expertise come directly from the US. The Deutsche Presse Agentur news agency got it right to call the Broadway performance a "re-import."
A rocky start
On a recent Friday, the theater is only around two-thirds full for the show, which gets off to a slow start.
It wears on in the beginning as a lonely Rocky sings to his turtles and can get things going neither with Adrian nor in the dirty, isolated boxing club where he's training. But the audience eventually gets drawn in - particularly thanks to the masterful storytelling in part two, which details Rocky's preparations for the fight, drawing in video animations of the film's episodes and showing the meeting of the two boxers.
Different city, different cast
"Everything they put on stage was wonderful," said a young woman after the performance. "Putting the boxing ring in the middle of the room - that was fantastic." When the auditorium is transformed into a boxing arena and the film hit "Eye of the Tiger" heats up the mood, the audience is in fact on the edge of their seats
The young woman and her friends have been to "Spiderman" and other Broadway shows, and she says "Rocky" from Germany is on par. Her male companions liked the sporty power struggle of the second part more. One of them is a boxer himself, summing up what he'd change in the production as follows: "More suspense, more action, less singing."
Another young woman who has already been to the musical multiple times has brought flower bouquets to the artists' exit. "It's a show that you can take everyone along to - a brother, friends," she says.
For Dakin Matthews, who plays Rocky's trainer, the musical is "the most intricate and exciting show on Broadway at the moment." He would like to take on the same role in the Hamburg production, but like fellow actor Andy Karl, doesn't speak enough German.
"Sentimental and schmaltzy" is how the "Philadelphia Inquirer" dismissed the musical. The "New York Times" review described Stephen Flaherty's music as disappointing and was right to complain about inadequate character development in the first part. That's due not just to the script by Thomas Meehan and Sylvester Stallone, but also to director Alex Timbers. Perhaps too many New Yorkers have read the review and decided to stay away as a result.
But those who take in the breathtaking 15-minute fight scene and testosterone-laden atmosphere of the second part of the musical may well be glad they paid up $150 (109 euros) for tickets. As Jennifer Mudge, a fellow actress in the production puts it: "It's very Broadway; it's very fun."