By Patricia Reaney
NEW YORK (Reuters) - With its full-size boxing ring, giant video screens and techno wizardry, "Rocky" the musical thrilled audiences on Broadway with its rousing finale, but critics said overall it wasn't a knockout.
The musical, which opened on Thursday night, is based on the 1976 film starring Sylvester Stallone that won a best picture Oscar about a struggling boxer in south Philadelphia who falls for a shy, local girl and gets his once-in-a-lifetime chance to fight the reigning champion.
Broadway veteran Andy Karl, who starred in "Jersey Boys" and "Wicked," fills Stallone's shoes as Rocky Balboa and Margo Seibert, in her Broadway debut, is the mousey pet shop employee Adrian who wins his heart.
"Thanks to these fine actors, you root for Rocky, the romantic lug with pet turtles, and Adrian, the girl he coaxes out of her shell," said the New York Daily News.
The Hollywood Reporter said Karl sticks close to the Stallone model as Rocky but injects a fresh vitality and humor into the role.
"The delicate chemistry between Karl and Seibert breathes warmth into their outsider romance, and Adrian's solos, the melancholy "Raining" and "I'm Done," in which she finally asserts herself ... are among the better numbers," it said.
But the real crowd pleaser is the finale, the fight sequence that pits Rocky against reigning champion Apollo Creed, played with gusto by Terence Archie ("Ragtime"), who originated the role in the musical's first run in Hamburg, Germany, in 2012.
In the finale, audience members in the first few rows are ushered onto bleachers set up on the stage as the boxing ring is moved further into theater for the big fight and cheering fans greet the fighters as they march down the aisles to the ring.
The Chicago Tribune praised it as an eye-popping finale.
"It's hard to overstate the achievements of this concluding fight, which is the reason 'Rocky' has the aroma of a long-term Broadway survivor," it said.
The New York Post was equally impressed.
"Director Alex Timbers ('Bloody Andrew Jackson') earns his keep right there. If you could win a Tony based on just 20-minutes, 'Rocky' would be a shoo-in," it said.
"Problem is, that finale is preceded by an hour and a half of less thrilling moments," it added.
ROCKY THE LEGEND
Famous scenes from the film are replicated in the musical with Rocky jabbing and punching sides of beef at a meat plant, sparring in a gym, jogging in a hooded sweatshirt on the city's gritty streets and running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The show features a book by Stallone, who is also a producer, and Thomas Meehan, as well music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, a team that won a Tony for "Ragtime."
But the Daily News found the songs "efficient not memorable" and said "Eye of the Tiger" lost something in its move from the film to the stage.
And although the New York Times was impressed with the show's finale, saying it was "an all-out, multimedia assault on the senses that forces much of the audience to its feet," it thought the show may have relied too much on the Rocky legend.
"For what they have given us is a show that feels like such a flat liner that you can't imagine that it could pull itself into any kind of competitive shape, even in a lackluster season for Broadway musicals," it said.
(Editing by Eric Kelsey and Marguerita Choy)