“Rocky” Announces Early Closing in August

Despite High Hopes, The Broadway Run Will End After Just Six Months

rocky the musical on BroadwayRocky The Musical took New York by storm when it first showed up on Broadway this winter.  In anticipation of its first preview on February 13, 2014, it ousted Mamma Mia! from the Winter Garden Theatre, which had been its home for the last six years.  Rocky arrived fresh from a successful 2012 run in Hamburg, Germany, directed by hot young director Alex Timbers (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Peter and the Starcatcher).  Based off the 1976 film of the same name, whose screenplay was written by Sylvester Stallone, Rocky is the rags to riches story of Rocky Balboa, a club fighter who eventually gets a shot at the world heavyweight championship.  The musical was nominated for four 2014 Tony Awards, winning one: that for Best Scenic Design.  However, just six short months after the musical began performances, it will close: on August 17, 2014.

A Financial Loss

With a reported capitalization of $16.5 million, Rocky is sure to close at a loss.  Weekly grosses have fluctuated, but generally been around $700,000, which is not excellent for a musical in such a large theatre.  For instance, in this past week ending July 13, 2014, the musical grossed $626,984, which is only 49.62% of its gross potential.  With such soft sales, the producers of Rocky are unlikely to have made back nearly any of their investment. This loss is a gigantic disappointment for the international producing organization Stage Entertainment, which was also behind the unsuccessful musicals Sister Act and Big Fish.  Still, there were high hopes for Rocky, which succeeded in its Hamburg run, so much that the Shubert Organization was persuaded to move Mamma Mia! and give up one of its prime houses.  However, reviews were mixed in the United States, and audiences could not quite wrap their head around the idea of a musical rendition of this classic film.

The “Golden Circle”, and the Tony Award for Best Scenic Design

The show is particularly ambitious in terms of its scenic design, for which it was given a Tony Award.  In a most notable designrocky golden circle feature, a boxing ring descends on the audience during a final climatic moment.  This “Golden Circle” requires that 64 orchestra seats be vacated, with the audience re-located to the stage.  Specifically, the center orchestra in rows AA through F are moved to bleachers, where the group’s view of the show isn’t as good as the remaining audience’s view of them.  However, this scenic feat is very impressive, and succeeds in making the audience feel as close to being in an actual boxing match as could be possible in a Broadway theatre.  Unfortunately, this spectacle was not enough to overcome the mediocre response to the narrative and score.

What Lies Ahead

Though this is a blow to the otherwise perfect record for director Alex Timbers, he is likely to remain on his feet.  His most recently announced upcoming project is a collaboration with husband and wife composing team Bobby Lopez (The Book of Mormon, Avenue Q) and Kristen Anderson-Lopez (Frozen).  It is called Up Here, and will premiere at the La Jolla Playhouse in 2015.  Meanwhile, Rocky may decide to embark on a national tour, although its scenic elements are sure to pose a difficulty in creating a portable version of the show.  As the elaborate design was its biggest asset, a tour is a questionable choice, and the producers may decide that it is ultimately unfeasible.

Disney Confirms “Frozen” Stage Musical in Development

Bobby Lopez Returns to Broadway with a Screen Success

Bobby Lopez, the co-songwriter of the 2013 smash hit Disney film Frozen, is no stranger to Broadway.  He made a name for himself when he co-wrote the raunchy puppet musical Avenue Q, which won the 2004 Tony Awards for Best Musical as well as Best Original Score.  In an even more stupendous success, he followed that show by co-writing The Book of Mormon along with South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone.  The Book of Mormon, which also won the Tony Awards for Best Musical as well as Best Original Score, has been playing a sold-out run at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre since March 2011, and it remains an extremely tough ticket to this day.  Unlike many Broadway composers, however, Lopez did not keep his sights set on the stage only.  After a few other ventures into screen composing, Bobby, along with his wife Kristen Anderson-Lopez, scored the gig to write songs for the 2003 Disney film Frozen.  In addition to winning the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, Frozen was also awarded the honor of Best Original Song, written by the Lopez duo, which was “Let It Go” sung by Broadway favorite Idina Menzel.

“Frozen” Stage Musical in Early Stages of Development

frozen movie posterIn January of this year, it was announced that Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez are in the early stages of adapting Frozen to become a stage musical.  Disney has had many stage hits in the recent past, including The Lion King, Mary Poppins, and the newly running Aladdin.  The film Frozen includes eight original songs by the husband and wife team, and presumably they would write additional tunes for the stage score, which would rely more heavily on music in place of animation.  Time will tell whether Idina Menzel, a Broadway star who has performed in such shows as Rent and Wicked, will reprise her role as Elsa, the 21 year-old snow queen who inadvertently turns her kingdom into ice.  If this were to happen, the storyline would need to be slightly adjusted for Idina, who is presently 43 years old.  At this time, she is starring in a new musical called If / Then, where she plays a 40 year-old woman who moves back to New York City in search of a new start after a divorce.  The other lead role in the film, Princess Anna, was played by Kristen Bell, the beloved screen star known for her role on the television series Veronica Mars.  Bell has only been on Broadway twice; the last time was The Crucible in 2002.  Therefore, it will be fascinating to see if she reprises her screen role on the stage as well.

But First, “Up Here”

Though Frozen is still in its early stages of becoming a stage show, Bobby Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez are keeping busy.bobby lopez kristen anderson lopez  They have written the score to another new musical called Up Here, the storyline of which follows a millennial protagonist named Dan who reckons with his subconscious mind while seeking a romantic relationship.  That show will premiere at San Diego’s La Jolla Playhouse in the 2015 – 2016 season directed by Alex Timbers, a young director who has made a name for himself with such hit shows as Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Peter and the Starcatcher, Rocky, and Here Lies Love.  Up Here is a more alternative story, and therefore its potential to transfer to Broadway is questionable.  This tryout run will serve to show Broadway producers if such a niche story could have a wide enough appeal to survive in this competitive marketplace.  In any case, the Lopez duo and Timbers both have plenty of connections to keep on making mainstream potential hits such as Frozen, while also experimenting with more alternative fare.

Rocky Opens at Broadway’s Winter Garden Theatre

Rocky, a new musical based on the 1976 film of the same name, had its official opening last night on Broadway.  With an original score by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens (Ragtime, Once on This Island, Anastasia), and a libretto by Thomas Meehan (The Producers, Hairspray, Annie) in collaboration with Sylvester Stallone, Rocky is directed by Alex Timbers (Here Lies Love, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Peter and the Starcatcher). 

rocky the musical on BroadwayProduced by the international theatre powerhouse Stage Entertainment, Rocky premiered in Hamburg, Germany in 2012 in a German language production, where it is still running today.  In its newly translated English version, the Broadway production now occupies the Winter Garden Theatre, where Mamma Mia! played from 2001 to 2013 (Mamma Mia! is now continuing its run at the Broadhurst Theatre).

When the film came out in 1976, Sylvester Stallone was relatively unknown.  After writing the script and starring as the fictional boxing hero Rocky Balboa, Stallone launched to fame, and went on to write, star, and also direct four subsequent sequels.  (The first film as well as Rocky V were directed by John G. Avildsen.)  The original Rocky, which was made on the shoestring budget of under $1 million, became the highest grossing film of 1976, and the franchise has since earned over $1.1 billion worldwide.  Sylvester Stallone is also the second billed producer after Stage Entertainment of Rocky the Musical, which has a production budget of approximately $15 million.  Because of its successful run in Hamburg, whose budget of $20 million included development expenses, Rocky the Musical was able to avoid an American pre-Broadway tryout and economize for a lean Broadway budget.

Starring Andy Karl as Rocky, Margo Seibert as Adrian, Terence Archie as Apollo Creed, Dakin Matthews as Mickey, and Danny Mastrogiorgio as Paulie, this musical is not relying on A-list Hollywood stars to sell its tickets, a luxury generally reserved for musicals rather than plays.  The director Alex Timbers, who is only 35 years old, is often referred to as the “boy genius” of theatre, as his whirlwind career thus far includes two Tony Award nominations and four Broadway directing credits, including Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson for which he also wrote the book.  As for his writing, Timbers is known for a quirky and often irreverent style, but for Rocky which he only directs, his skills are most visible in terms of the magic of technical design employed onstage, especially in the adrenaline-charged closing number bolstered by the choreography of Steven Hoggett and Kelly Devine.

In fact, Ben Brantley of The New York Times praised this closing number and little else, going as far as to claim the show doesn’t even begin until over 2 hours after its curtain time.  Reviewers were generally mixed – Entertainment Weekly and The New York Post gave it raves, but the Hollywood Reporter called its score “unmemorable” and AM New York made fun of how its musicality undermined the serious story at its core.  Still, the success of the show’s last 15 minutes was basically unanimous, and critics also largely agreed that Alex Timbers’ direction was innovative, the technical elements were unique, and the emotional impact of the classic underdog story was indestructible.

In terms of box office sales, the show has not been knocking it out of the park.  In the last week of previews, the average discount ticket price was a low $66.29, though premium seats were sold for as high as $248.00, reaching only 43.65 percent of its gross potential.  Still, national awareness has just been augmented by wide press coverage, and the brand power of this movie franchise will most likely overshadow any ambivalence in critical praise.  In any case, it is undoubtedly one of the more buzz-generating Broadway shows opening this season, and we may expect to see these numbers increase in the coming weeks.