Dutch entertainment mogul Joop van den Ende is one of Europe’s savviest producers of movies, TV and legit, but he just can’t catch a break on Broadway. His latest venture, the musical adaptation of Rocky, was a hit on the Continent — it’s still selling out in Hamburg — but the tuner will shutter August 17 at the Winter Garden Theatre at a complete loss of its estimated $16 million-plus capitalization. Van den Ende will share the pain with a four-star roster of partners including Rocky himself, Sylvester Stallone, MGM, the two leading Broadway landlords, the Shubert Organization (which owns the Winter Garden) and the Nederlander Organization, along with a host of independent producers.
Rocky began previews February 13 and opened a month later to mostly critical yawns that tamped the box office despite some enthusiastic patrons getting in on highly discounted tickets. The show offered a certified coup de theatre from set designer Christopher Barreca in the final scene, which called for the folks in the front rows of the orchestra to move to stageside bleachers, offering a simulacrum of a live boxing event. The boxing ring in which Andy Karl’s Rocky Balboa fought Terence Archie’s Apollo Creed was drawn out on risers directly into the house, a knockout move. Strategic miking and custom-made props — including soft gloves that allowed the actors to actually pummel one another — enhanced the illusion.
Karl won praise for his performances, as did Margo Seibert, who plays Rocky’s plain-jane-til-she-takes-off-her-glasses love-interest, Adrian. But the white-hot team of director Alex Timbers (Here Lies Love, Peter And The Starcatcher, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson) and choreographer Steven Hoggett (Once, American Idiot) and Kelly Devine (Memphis) couldn’t breathe much life into the ho-hum score by the Once On This Island and Ragtime team of Stephen Flaherty (music) and Lynn Ahrens (lyrics) or the by-the-numbers book by Stallone and musical theater veteran Thomas Meehan (Annie, Hairspray, The Producers). Taking in about 50% of its $1.2 million gross potential at the box office despite an ambitious promotional campaign, it’s doubtful that the show ever covered its weekly nut.
Van den Ende made his Broadway debut in 1993 with Cyrano — The Musical, which he also brought after successful productions in Europe, but the show was a massive flop in New York. Last season was particularly rough on the Gene Hackman lookalike; van den Ende was also a key backer of Sister Act and last fall’s Big Fish, a better show than Rocky but nevertheless dead in the water. Rocky will have played 28 previews and 188 regular performances at its closing.