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Broadway on the elbe.

HAMBURG AND NEW YORK CITY: When Alex Timbers burst upon the New York theatre scene in 2003 with A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant, he and his company, Les Freres Corbusier, secured a glowing review from Ben Brantley in the New York Times for the "gutsiest gimmick" of the season and "a cult-hit blueprint for a young generation." Seven years later, the Public Theater moved Timbers's Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson to Broadway, and the director has never looked back. Although edgy work is usually considered antithetical to Broadway, Timbers seems intent on trying to prove that innovation and commercial success are not mortal enemies.

In his biggest project yet, Timbers, along with an A-list team that includes veterans Stephen Flaherty (composer), Lynn Ahrens (lyricist) and Steven Haggett (choreographer), is bringing to Broadway what seems like an unlikely project: a musical adaptation of Sylvester Stallone's 1976 movie blockbuster Rocky. Those who fear that a scrappy boxer will prove a less-than-satisfactory hero for a flashy musical may well be proven wrong, considering that Rocky the Musical is expertly constructed and staged. But what makes Rocky most remarkable is the fact that its out-of-town tryout was held 3,800 miles from Broadway.

Rocky was produced not by a U.S.-based corporation but by the largest producer of musicals in the world, Stage Entertainment, which is headquartered in the Netherlands and has been developing original musicals for more than 10 years. Having nurtured Europe's now gargantuan appetite for Broadway-style musicals, Stage Entertainment is trying to secure a foothold on the street itself by premiering Rocky in Hamburg, in German translation, before transferring it to New York. Stage Entertainment, which has a portfolio of about 70 productions and sells over 10 million tickets per year, has almost single-handedly turned Hamburg into the Broadway of Europe, to which tourists make pilgrimages from all over the continent.

Against all odds, Rocky delivers a knockout punch, its climactic fight turned into an almost immersive event, as one might expect from a director who cut his teeth on experimental work. Just before the climactic fight, spectators seated in the first seven rows of the orchestra are brought onstage to sit in bleachers facing the house, after which a slowly revolving boxing ring rolls out over the vacated seats and video screens are lowered from the ceiling. Despite the dazzle, however, Rocky remains at heart an old-fashioned musical, employing a tuneful, expertly constructed score and overlaying its intimate version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein formula (think: Carousel) with touches of 1970s Philly soul.

Stage Entertainment's salute to what they call the first "German musical" to be exported to Broadway represents more than misplaced cultural nationalism. Rather, it is symptomatic of the fact that today "Broadway" musicals are being written and staged all over the world, from Hamburg to Seoul, Capetown to Shanghai. And because all these theatre capitals pay homage to the Great White Way, lovers of musicals are as likely to find Broadway on the banks of the Elbe and the Yangtze as the Hudson.--David Savran

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Title Annotation:NEWS IN BRIEF; stage adaptation of Rocky in Hamburg, Germany
Publication:American Theatre
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2014
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