Emily Guendelsberger Emily is senior staff writer at Philadelphia City Paper. She enjoys writing about feminism, opera, television, arts ecosystems, music theory, people with weird jobs and pretty much everything involving money. You can also find her writing at the A.V. Club, the Guardian and other fine publications.
Victor Fiorillo at PhillyMag noted Tuesday that tonight's scheduled first preview of Rocky: The Musical (which is set to open March 13 on Broadway) has been postponed because of electrical issues caused by the snow.
My search for more information on how the musical was coming along began immediately. The Rocky on Broadway site had a link to a New York Times article, which, as I kept reading, was a little confusing. Why do they keep talking about Hamburg, Germany? Oh right: because that's where Rocky: The Musical had its first outing, as Rocky: Das Musical. Apparently Broadway turned up its nose when Sylvester Stallone and other producers came calling with the idea, but someone else was interested:
The chilly reception from Broadway backers knocked out "Rocky" until, the lyricist Lynn Ahrens said, "these crazy German people showed up."
They were executives from Stage Entertainment, the leading European presenter of musical spectacles like "The Lion King" "Mamma Mia!" and "Tarzan." And they came eager to grow their multimillion-dollar empire — which specializes in retrofitting Broadway musicals (even flops) for audiences in Hamburg, Madrid, Paris and elsewhere into their native languages — and to develop more shows on their own. If "Rocky the Musical" struck some as the dumbest movie-to-musical yet, following recent Broadway flops like "Ghost" and "Leap of Faith," "Rocky das Musical" held promise as the sort of testosterone-fueled event that can whip German audiences into a lather.
A chance encounter between Stage executives and Mr. Stallone led to a transatlantic collaboration, with script readings and boxing workshops in New York, and months of German-language translation revisions in Hamburg, where "Rocky das Musical" opened Nov. 18 in a $20 million production — one of the most expensive ever. The reviews have been rapturous from critics here, and now its producers are eyeing a possible production on Broadway.
Rapturous reviews? We had to see this. Fortunately, this article is from November 2012, and as any theater nerd knows, everything involving musical theater is on YouTube. And indeed, there's video of a variety-show staging of scenes from Rocky: Das Musical. It begins with the "Eye of the Tiger" opening sequence, which is fantastic and clever in a completely unironic way. (Reviews indicate that the critical acclaim this musical has received in Germany is more about the staging and choreography and less about the original songs.)
Despite the Rocky/Apollo Creed English-language duet in "Eye of the Tiger," the production is definitely primarily in German. This is very evident at 1:50 when the opening segues into a tender Adrian/Rocky scene; Rocky's first German line, "Adrian, wie schafft es nicht," made me blow milk out my nose.
I had to know what that ballad was about! Fortunately, a friend from Germany was willing to get on the phone with me to translate it. Juliane, who has both an MD and a PhD, has been working in Philly as a post-doc at Penn for a few years; she says she maybe saw Rocky as a kid in Germany, but not recently, and that she doesn't remember it very well. (I have also, somehow, never seen Rocky. Picture that montage from The 40-Year-Old Virgin where Steve Carell allllllmost loses his virginity several times, but remove all the urgency from it. It's just never happened.)
I initially was going to transcribe Juliane's translation, but it was so funny that I ended up incorporating the audio into this video:
Juliane would like to add that she really liked the choreography.
As coincidence would have it, the very day I was trying to get Juliane on the phone, another native German speaker, this one named Julian (seriously), got in touch about something I'd written. His email mentioned that he was actually from Hamburg, which seemed like fate. He was nice enough to talk to me some more over gchat about Rocky and the Hamburg musical-theater scene:
City Paper: So, you are actually from Hamburg, Germany! Are you from Germany originally?
Julian: I am from East Frisia in northwest Germany, but have been living in Hamburg (hh for short) for the past three years. Before that, London for six years. But yeah, I am German.
And German is your first language, but your job involves a lot of English?
J: Most of it — I do some German, too.
And, uh, have you ever seen Rocky?
J: No, I tend to avoid musicals, to be honest. Do you need me to have seen it?
No, not at all! I more meant the film.
J: I think I have seen the film ages ago.
So in Philly, Rocky is kind of a big deal. Do you get the impression that many people who grew up in Germany have seen Rocky (the film, not the musical)?
J: Yeah, definitely — Rambo and Rocky, both pop culture icons over here.
Could you describe the plot of the film as you remember it?
J: Whee — young guy, boxer, falls in love, has to get in the ring a few times and then later gets the girl. Or something like that, anyway. (And works out like mad. Sweats profusely.)
Living in Hamburg, do you remember Rocky: Das Musical being a big deal a couple years ago?
J: I remember when they announced it, but I don't really pay attention to musicals. Hamburg is a big musical town, so it’s not unusual that they'd make a big whup over a new one coming to town. But the fact it was on that TV show in the clip you sent must mean that it was quite big (or at least had a big PR budget) because the show — Wetten Dass? — is like the gran' ole battleship of German light television entertainment.
What does “wetten dass” mean?
J: Wetten dass? means “Let's make a bet” — rather, “Wanna bet?”
OK, when he sings "FIGHT FROM THE HEAAAAAAART" at the end of the song — the R in heart is, like, super American sounding.
J: I really liked how he pronounced the RT in the end.
Exactly, it’s way more American-sounding than you'd hear on actual Broadway. Is the actor trying to communicate an American accent? Or does he just have an American accent? (The actor is American.)
J: It's an American story, so your average German person who'd go see this needs to be provided with a few subtle signifiers.
And super twisty Rs are a way of doing that?
J: I think so — twangy-sounding in general.
Does the actor have an American accent when he’s singing in German?
J: He does have an American accent, but it's hard to pick up through the singing. Doing a good job.
I know it's silly to generalize about an entire country, but the New York Times did a piece on this production and mentioned how the producers thought it would be manly enough to invigorate German audiences. In your experience, are manly musicals more appealing than non-manly musicals?
J: Hmm, not sure… Disney's Tarzan just finished a run in Hamburg — didn’t see it, but that would have been manly, I assume. On the other hand, we had Dance of the Vampires for a while.
Many of the musicals that come through Hamburg are translations of big Broadway hits, right?
J: Not sure what all was on Broadway, but Lion King has been massively popular here for at least ten years. And they used to have quite a few Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals on, like Cats, Phantom of the Opera, etc. Plus some Disney. And The Miracle of Berne will open soon, which is about the German national soccer team winning the ‘54 World Cup.
So if it were still around in Hamburg, would you go see the Rocky musical based on this trailer?
J: No. But it is still around, by the way.
Wait, it's still playing now?
J: Yeah, as far as I know Rocky is still on.
The theater that Rocky: Das Musical is in is right across the street from the red light district, right?
J: It's on the main strip in the red light district.
Is that where most of the theaters are, or does that signify anything about the play?
J: No, there are a few others. It's always been more than just prostitutes — lots of music, entertainment etc. Before it opened, there was actually a spoof musical called Ricky the Boxer in a small pub in the red light district.
Oh lord, please tell me more about Ricky the Boxer.
J: Here's a writeup in the local paper — the pic should give you an idea.
Any final thoughts on how Rocky translates to German musical theater?
J: I guess it probably goes to show that the big production houses like to settle on established material. The company behind it is Stage Entertainment, and they're a big player in terms of big musical theatre production. They've even got their own academy in town training up actors for these things. They're bringing back Phantom of the Opera for a fresh run, too.
I'll leave you with one final Rocky: Das Musical fact — in at least one staging, a modern skyline of Philadelphia that includes the Comcast building is used as a backdrop.
Supreme Court won't hear ban on "boobies" bracelet case
The U.S. Supreme Court today said it would not hear an Easton school district's appeal, effectively...
You guys don't really care who's going to be your next Councilman, right?
Tomorrow, a column of (mostly) old men will lock themselves inside a white building and cast a...
Cleanup of illegal dump in Point Breeze gets underway
After years of filing complaints about an illegal garbage dump located adjacent to her property,...