Archive for Rocky

REVIEW: Rocky – The Musical

Posted in REVIEWS with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 8, 2014 by erikball123

*NOTE: These are just a few thoughts from a theatre lover, not necessarily a theatre critic. 

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ROCKY – THE MUSICAL

 

After watching ROCKY-THE MUSICAL, I felt like I truly went 15 rounds with Apollo Creed. I was exhausted, tense, and a bit overwhelmed. Mostly in very good ways. Mostly.

But, I cannot express enough, that where this musical made unbelievable strides as a theatrical spectacle and as an offering of a beloved brand that millions love (Rocky is undoubtable the true underdog story of the ages) I cannot help but wonder if it would be less of a spectacle and more of an impactful wonder if it had been reworked for the stage as a simple play.

The story (as if you don’t know. If you haven’t seen the movie, shame on you. It’s a cinematic masterpiece as the making of the film was an underdog story in itself) finds Rocky Balboa, a beat-up, boxer with a heart of gold. We get a quick shot of who his is with the charming and fun “My Nose Ain’t Broken” in the close confines of his seedy apartment (complete with Cuff and Link his two turtles…who got their own bronx-cheer when introduced. Fun!)

He’s in love with pet store worker Adrienne who is Pauly’s (Rocky’s friend) sister. We find that she’s got a lot in common with her admirer (and Margo Seibert is wonderful as the shy Adrienne) but her ballad “Raining” is very heavy-handed for an exposition song. We don’t know her quite yet…and we have yet to see the quirky charm that is our hero’s love…before hearing a draggy lament about her strife. I don’t know…maybe I’m being too harsh…but I thought “okay, I get it” at least twice during the song.

Rocky is facing hard times, boxing for pennies, barely making ends meat and even acting as a part-time “ruffian,” collecting debts in a shady side-job. (Of course, he’s too good of a guy to actually break thumbs or rough people up.) What is brilliant about this iconic character is how Andy Karl brings him to life without giving us a Stallone impersonation. Many actors turn in stellar performances…but Karl is simply a genius as the down-and-out boxer.  Simple gesturing and unbelievably grounded attention to details throughout are engaging. You find yourself laughing when he laughs, breathing heavier when he runs, and you almost feels the blows he takes in every match. Rarely do I see such touching portrayals…and the fact that he didn’t get the Tony for the role is a crime. (If you struck ALL of the razzamatazz and the technical amusement park that is the set….more on that later….and left Andy Karl onstage all by himself….I would still pay full price.)

Back to the story. Close-up on Apollo Creed, the story’s immediate antagonist and the Heavyweight Boxing Champion. He’s a flashy and rich mover and shaker, who is just as much a promoter as he is an athlete. He doesn’t have a championship match for New Year’s Day because his opponent breaks his wrist in training. So, insert the Italian Stallion, who is perceived by Creed as the perfect “American Dream” promotion opportunity. Think of the publicity! Terence Archie (who plays Creed) is a stoic, chiseled bad guy. He’s as poised and scripted as a WWE wrestler and is so much fun to watch. His number “Patriotic” is fun. Too bad that this is truly his only musical vehicle in the show.

While Creed thinks about the theatrics of the boxing match….Rocky is busy trying to woo Adrianne, make “good” decisions, and train for this once in a lifetime opportunity. Of course we have grizzly Mickey, the curmudgeon boxing gym owner who winds up training Rocky…but this character never really gets a fair shot. TV and movie character actor, Dakin Matthews is SO GOOD in everything he does…but in this, I thought, “eh.” (And frankly….I a little upset that I didn’t hear my favorite Mikey line “you’re gonna eat lightning, and you’re gonna crap thunder!”) And his lone musical moment “In the Ring” is disinteresting and long.

Now lets talk about the technical wonder that is ROCKY. The Winter Garden Theatre has been turned into a playground of discovery, and at EVERY single turn of this show, we are wowed with giant, towering set pieces that fly-in, fly-out, transform before our eyes, and offer giant visuals that will remain with you for a long time. The boxing ring itself is flown in and out, tipped sideways and serves as a movie screen and provides breath-taking, symbolic subtext opportunities. The meat locker where Pauly works consists of rows of GIANT slabs of beef in a cooler that drop from the ceiling on giant meat hooks. So cool! It created an audible gasp from the audience.

The lighting design is unreal, and the projections are taken to an interactive level that is pure genius, and makes the iconic movie moments such as Rocky’s training montages or the Philadelphia Museum of Art moment come to life. Details like rain projected on the entire set, carefully digitally generated so as to look like it’s actually hitting the set pieces are WONDERFUL!

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The second act is the real treat however. We eagerly anticipate the big fight…and when it comes time to deliver, the whole room transforms into a giant boxing arena. Ceiling monitors drop and the first 15 rows of the orchestra are redirected to the stage to sit in bleachers behind the ring which rumbles forward and covers the seating area to create a true “theatre in the round” ring-side experience. How they executed the change-over, complete with actors’ entrances, video commentary, and audience participation was something I enjoyed watching as it was choreographed as strategically as the fight scenes. Add some brilliant lighting nuances, and I tell you…I felt like I was at a boxing match. It was unreal.

Of course, the play, our hero and the audience “go the distance” and we all cheer in wild excitement as Rocky screams “ADRIANNE!” at the end of the fight.

You see…the show has the right formula and a willing and able (and I might even say EAGER) audience in waiting. They cast the right people…the spectacle is superb….it’s just the music. (And I hate to say it, because with music and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, one might figure “how can you go wrong.”) I think the problem is the same problem I had with Spider-Man….it’s too ballad-y with not enough songs you can tap your toes to.

But, my question is this…should ROCKY be a musical you tap your toes to? I argue that without canceling out ANY of the special effects, technical hoopla and stellar performances, you could make this a theatrical PLAY that would garnish the same type of hype, in my opinion. (I still think WAR HORSE is one of the most amazing spectacles I’ve ever seen and they had musical elements…but I would argue it would suck as a musical.)

I hate to say it…because I love sparkly things….but perhaps the technical elements aren’t needed.

I liked this musical…a lot….but…..what if this story were told….as a beat-up, worn-down, underdog of a story…with underdog set elements…perhaps holding a mirror up to Balboa’s world?

Perhaps that’s why I’m struggling with this one….it’s a BRILLIANT “Rocky” story with a brilliant “Rocky” leading man….but it’s an APOLLO CREED-type of a musical.

Too gussied up.

rocky reviews

 

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School Spirit: Not Just Lip-Service

Posted in LIFE IN GENERAL / RANDOM RAMBLINGS, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 13, 2011 by erikball123

In my efforts to lick my wounds, I offer you all a challenge: offset the mad-man ramblings of one Dale Earnhardt when he quipped “second place is first place loser.” Have we raised our standards so high that we can’t even see the feet we’re standing on anymore? Seriously. I’ve often spouted about how I’m blessed to teach at Faith Lutheran…but make no mistake, it can sometimes be a “everybody gets a gold star” type of place. That’s not the real world. That’s not how life really is. Take it from an actor who met more closed doors that open when making a living in Chicago. You gotta have a tough skin, because sometimes life doesn’t happen to fall into place the way you expect it to.

Last night at the annual Faith Lutheran Homecoming Lip Sync event…the Senior class was defeated by the Junior class. (I was the adviser of the Senior class, along with my dear friends Chris and Christian.) Some say that the results of the judging were unjust! Some were outraged! Some wallflower seniors shed tears! One student threw a roll of toilet paper. We all deal with anger differently, I guess. I went to the drive-thru of McDonalds and inhaled two cherry pies in record time.

Allow me to explain what a Lip Sync is, first. Every Homecoming has a theme. This year’s was “VEGAS.” Every Homecoming event circulating this theme had to do with an individual Vegas casinos. The Lip Sync competition is one that pits classes against each other in spirited rivalry as they cut a four-minute music mix based on the given theme, and perform a costumed performance to the music, while attempting to lip sync to the vocals, as an ensemble. The theme for the Lip Sync event was HARD ROCK CAFE, and the seniors were given Queen, Journey and Rolling Stones as their music selections. The Lip Sync is truly one of the most attended and fun events we have on campus. (Even the teachers perform in a faculty skit. It gets really silly!) I’ve always loved it because it demands the students to work as an ensemble and draw on each others’ creative spirits.

Ours was REALLY cool too! The story followed a group of seniors from the hall (with various crazy hall passes) to the bathroom where there was a party going on. (Stall 54!) The Asst. Principal bursts in a gives everyone lunch detentions. While at lunch we meet some rather colorful lunch ladies, some boot-scooting girls and some Harlem shuffling boys. After the boys fall in love with the lunch ladies…the Principal comes in and issues a Saturday detention, enforced by the Saturday detention campus police (on bicycles…including a tiny clown bike.) The students are disgruntled…but in the end one brave student says “hey, guys…let’s get past all this…after all ‘We Are the Champions.'” Cue music. Everyone ends up very happy and unified…and we take a class picture. It was a very fun 4 minutes.

I’ve always thought that competition is a good thing. I don’t coach any sport, but the second we begin doing contests “just for fun” is the day Rome falls. I can’t imagine any red-blooded 4A school in the country suiting up for a friendly game of ball where they didn’t keep score. Wouldn’t happen. So, in this case, the Lip Sync is judged. I would say the vast majority of the time, the Seniors win…simply because this is their last hurrah! They usually pull out all stops and generate a lively, energetic and touching offering. Something they can be proud of. This year was no different and I was proud to be an adviser.

With that said…I find myself a bit disheartened today. Like every heated competition, there must be a winner. When that winner is announced, surely there will be a group of people who are upset by this. Well, the dust settled…my group of seniors were defeated (and by a bunch of Juniors! The audacity!)…and I found myself facing a handful of faithful lip stinkers who have taken the defeat very personally and are steadfast in their theories that the school is “out to get them” or “hates the senior class.” One student even punched a hole in our foam board restroom stall that we made. (Ironically, he was the one that the toilet paper as well. Restroom rage?)

Please allow me to put forth my perspective: I think the senior class worked a lot of hours perfecting dance moves, pulling together creative ideas, making costumes/props, and including people from all four corners of the class dynamic into every faction of the offering. It was inspiring. Were there those that rolled their eyes? Yes. Were there those who didn’t care as much? Sure. But overall…I’d say that the class represented themselves very well. I was there from day one…I saw how this coming-together of minds morphed from a puddle of goo into a full-fledged production. I saw people struggle and sweat. I saw the spirit.

Now, did the winning team struggle? Did they overcome trials and tribulations? Did they inject even half as much spirit into their offering? Who knows! I certainly don’t. I hear grumblings just like everyone else…but I can imagine that they had their share of trials as well. And I’m sure everyone can agree that everyone wants to win. But, here’s the thing…(and I’m sure some seniors have personal, or big picture gripes about what they are experiencing this year versus what is deserved)…there is no perfect system. Like every audition I conduct…I am to be trusted to make a decision that will affect a bigger picture. Those judges were picked by student council and it’s up to them to issue the final decision. If the seniors would have won…we’d be facing the same uphill climb with the Juniors. They’d be mad….etc. Now, one might argue that because last year the Junior (now Seniors) under my direction again (sheesh! I’m cursed!) came in second place….and we had a REALLY cool offering. But we’re not talking about last year…we’re focusing on this year, and the stuffy Gym atmosphere, and the new judges, and the alpha and omega stars which were aligned and the fifty-thousand other things that made this particular lip sync unique.

Now, before all the seniors who read this hit the Stumble Upon button, grumbling madly…I would encourage you to think about this…school spirit is what YOU make of it. It’s not a magic power…it’s not something granted or earned….it’s not something someone is entitled to. It’s a mind-set.

If you took: kindness / optimistic / determination / courage / thoughtfulness / faith and Hawaiian Punch and made a crazed milkshake…maybe with a dash of Red Bull…that’s school spirit. It’s what you feel when your home team scores a touchdown. It’s what you feel when every member of your class puts their hand in the circle and you shout “TEAM!” together. It’s what you demonstrate when you high five someone who just did well, or comfort someone who feels sad. It’s a frame of mind that supports you and guides you and helps you make positive choices. I argue….it’s the influence of the Holy Spirit working through you.

School spirit is like Bigfoot. Do we really need proof that it exists? If everyone in the room agrees that it does…that’s enough. And that’s what’s FUN about it! (Frankly, that’s what’s fun about Bigfoot too!)

I’m sad for my senior students. I have the great fortune to look into their eyes and see good people. Even those buggers who are naughty…(you know who you are)…I stand behind them with my hand on their shoulder and I tell you, they are good people too. That’s the thing about Faith Lutheran, it’s a school that truly does care. It’s an imperfect place…and there is room to grow…but no one wants to be on the receiving end of a second place trophy. While I argue that this contest was in no way personal…and that my students can use this experience to help paint the color of the fabric of their character…I will say that it sucks to lose as a senior to the juniors. I tip my hat to them, as they did a fine job. But, I hope that the four-minutes of Lip Syncing isn’t what these students will take with them on their personal journeys after graduation. I hope it’s a bigger scope of experiences.

Did you know that Jack Nicklaus (some would say the greatest golfer of all time) came in second place 19 times, in 19 separate major golf championships?

Did you know that Star Wars (a film in a year that redefined cinema in nearly every regard, and was considered to be a shoe-in for Best Picture) lost the Best Picture Oscar to “Rocky?” (Gotta love the underdog irony there.)

Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears were both runners-up on Star Search before becoming world-wide music icons.

Al Gore (probably one of the most famous runner-ups ever) received more popular votes than any elected President ever….still lost to George W. Bush.

This is absolutely no consolation to the efforts demonstrated by the class of 2012. But, I would argue that while upsetting, it gives us all something to talk about today. (Even if it is commiserating.) And after all, isn’t that what spirit week during Homecoming is all about? A chance to come together? I mean…let’s say we win our football game this Friday. We’ll walk away…together….going “WE ROCK!” But, if we lose this Friday…hypothetically….then we should be able to walk away….together…going “DARN YOU BULLDOGS!” Here’s the thing…there’s a saying “that which does not kill us makes us stronger.” I’m not sure I LOVE the saying…but I am a huge fan of teaching students to have a thick skin.

Instead of adopting the “pick yourself up and dust yourself off” mentality…I suggest we think of things this way: If we’re all trying to be SCHOOL SPIRITED…even if we fall on our faces…we’re still moving forward….together.

The students are disgruntled…I understand that. But, I’m letting you all know…I feel strongly that we will all be able to champion through this situation. Seniors deserve a chance to shine! If it isn’t going to be as the winners of Lip Sync, then let it be as good sports.

Go the Distance.

Posted in ACTING ONSTAGE, DIRECTING FOR THE STAGE, THE HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE CLASSROOM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 3, 2008 by erikball123

These pictures are from the set of the motion picture “ROCKY BALBOA.” I was an extra in the final fight scene.

There’s this moment in the movie ROCKY where the timid Adrianne looks at her love in the eyes and says “why do you want to fight.” Rocky says simply, “because I can’t sing or dance.”

“Those who can’t….teach” is a common saying. I hear it often. Usually it is presented by someone who has never stepped in front of a class before. Usually it’s said after someone presumes they know what it’s like to be in the field of education…”and those amazing three-month vacations, where teachers relax and walk the beaches…nurture rich, dark tans…and live in Never-Never land until August!”

Give me a break. Granted, my particular position is nothing to complain about. I work in a beautiful school, with amazing students…and the faculty lounge coffee?…..It’s not so bad. But, anyone who says that teaching is a field where lazy, wanna-be professionals go to die…they need a gigantic bite of reality pie.

Rocky is probably not a prime example. But I like the fact that this boxer continues to fight against insurmountable odds, because he truly believes he is destined to do so. “Because he can’t sing or dance.”

This school district in Las Vegas is not a good one. Even the superintendent agrees. But, I refuse to believe that ANY educational environment is beyond hope…and likewise, I refuse to believe that every teacher is “lazy” by the saying’s insinuation. Teachers are forever students, always wanting to grow as providers. I’m not saying we’re all alike…some are short…some are tall. Some graduated with a 3.9 GPAs….some barely graduated….yet all teachers get the same opportunity: “To mold and shape the future leaders!”

I suppose it’s just like saying all lawyers are sharks…and all doctors are quacks. Sheesh. Is there anything nice to say about people out there? Is there any positive reinforcement? I know there is, somewhere. And I’m not just talking about the superficial nonsense that accompanies those denim vests with sparkly reindeer or “Happy Holiday” flowers that elementary teachers wear. Look beyond the Christmas Tree ornaments that say “Teachers are Special”….and remember, before anyone can scrutinize a teacher’s motives…a teacher’s philosophy….a teacher’s effectiveness….you have to agree that at LEAST all teachers have one thing in common….like Rocky Balboa, they keep getting up when knocked down. Everyday is a build up…and test of endurance. Everyday teacher’s must file away their personal lives and allow their student’s personal lives to take the forefront. They must go the distance. In a sense…they are the ultimate student. I can’t think of another job where the goal of the job is to purposely plant yourself in the seat of the target audience and simply…endure….transform….regroup….and engage again.

My wife once said that teaching is the only job where your job description changes EVERYDAY. No two days are the same. Ever. Think about it. A fireman knows that either they will or will not put out fires that day. Teachers put out fires….start fires….talk about starting fires….prevent fires….fuel fires….or catch on fire! They are the only people that plan for the un-plannable. It’s a tough job.

It’s also the most refreshing and rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my life. I continue live with the stigma of having to live up to a Private Lutheran School Teacher expectation. Is that too bad? Nah…but it’s an expectation. And in or out of the classroom, attempting to ALWAYS exceed that expectation gets tiring sometimes. Sometimes it feels like a never ending battle. Sometimes it’s a thankless, never ending battle. Sometimes it’s a losing….thankless….neverending battle.

It’s no wonder my colleagues at Faith Lutheran are such amazing people. I know I roll my eyes at the stodgy-ness of some of their philosophies. Perhaps the philosophy that needs to be under the microscope should be mine! My rolling eyes never seem to think that though. But, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I didn’t have the freedom to go to my Lord in prayer every day. In a school that not only embraces that….but encourages that….well, it makes the un-plannable approachable. It’s makes fire feel bearable. It helps the weakest fighter go the distance.

Alright…I’ll go there. Why am I not working as an actor on Broadway? Heck…working as an actor anywhere! Why? I don’t know. God’s plan, I guess. I can tell you this. Ten years ago, I sure wouldn’t have told you that I was going to be a high school teacher. But then again, ten years ago I was pursuing an acting career…and I was in a self-loathing, self-indulgent, self-ish…pit. My ambitions consisted of landing that commercial audition and feeling the warmth of the spotlight on my face in front of a crowd. Sounds okay for the novice goal-setter! But for the ambitious, A.D.D. actor….nope. It wasn’t enough. I was so scattered…I didn’t know what was around the corner. All I knew was that when I turn that corner, I didn’t really know where I wanted to go next.

Today…I turn the corner and find myself inspired by the shy wallflower in my 4th block class whose eyes sparkled when I used her example in class. Or the tough-guy jock in 1st block who actually made eye-contact with me today and….listened. A milestone? Maybe. A goal reached? I wouldn’t necessarily say that. But I do know that every morning…I put on both of my socks…I shave my patchy face….I eat my Apple Jacks….and I dust myself off, and start all over again.

Those who can’t…teach?

How about: “Those who have faith…teach.”

Without the grace of God…the support of my God…the wisdom and strength of my Lord…I could not even get out of bed. I’d be spineless, scared…and lazy. I’m not the example of a good teacher. Shoot! Not by a long shot! But I’m the example of an average student. One who lives, breathes, prays and learns with my classes everyday. I wouldn’t change that opportunity for anything in the world. Funny thing is….for a silly starry-eyed wanna-be actor….I never even saw it coming!

I don’t agree with Rocky. “…because I can’t sing or dance.” Eh…what does he know. I’ve seen Rhinestone! But I admire the character’s determination. I admire the fact that he knows what he NEEDS to do, whether or not he WANTS to do it. I can’t explain WHY I need to be a teacher. But I do know this…it’s not because of the teacher’s lounge coffee or the promise of a juicy red apple at the end of class. It extends so far beyond that. I can’t tell you why! I don’t know myself.

Instead…I’ll take my summer breaks, thank you! (Or as I call them, “scrimmages.”) Because if it wasn’t for those long runs up the stairs of the library, and the punching bags…and the desire….Rocky would have never gone the distance. I just continue to hope to last the next round….with faith.

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