Rocky, the new stage production based on the Academy Award–winning Best Picture, arrives on Broadway in February.
The story of a struggling Philadelphia boxer who finds love and dignity against all odds was written originally for the screen by Sylvester Stallone, who also played the title role in the movie. The stage version has impressive Broadway credentials: a book by Thomas Meehan, music by Stephen Flaherty, and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens. Meehan received Tony Awards for Annie, The Producers, and Hairspray; Ahrens and Flaherty won Tony and Drama Desk Awards for Ragtime. This month (September 26–28), the songwriting duo are celebrating their three-decade-long career at Manhattan’s chic cabaret space 54 Below with a series of performances that pays tribute to their wide range of work, which includes Once on This Island, Dessa Rose, My Favorite Year, Lucky Stiff, The Glorious Ones, and Seussical. We spoke with Ahrens and Flaherty recently about their long collaboration and their upcoming Broadway show, Rocky.
Let’s start with your new musical, Rocky. How did it come about?
Ahrens: Tom Meehan was the impetus for us. He had been approached by Sylvester Stallone to write the book, and after looking for pop writers for a while, I think Tom said to Stallone, “What you really need is a team of theatre writers, and I know just the team.” We auditioned some songs that we had written for Stallone and he loved them; he said, “This is what I have been looking for.”
Flaherty: Actually, when we presented the very first Rocky songs to him, he was filming Rocky Balboa in Philadelphia, so we were actually presenting to the man who was back in the world of Rocky.
What was your first response when they asked you to write Rocky?
Ahrens: In my case — and Stephen’s as well — it was, “How could that possibly be a musical?” Everybody thinks that. But that’s because people think boxing, when in fact the real key is that it is a romance first. This is the first truly romantic story that I have ever written. All of our shows have a love interest, but this is about a man and a woman who are on the brink of their last chance in life for love; they elevate one another and give each other a sense of self-worth. I couldn’t image how I would write this show until I looked at the movie again and read the screenplay, which is a beautiful piece of writing. It is such a gorgeous story, so moving and so honest, and that’s why we are doing it.
Flaherty: I responded to the musical idea of it. Some of the scenes are really brutal and you can have this hard-hitting, rock-based score, and then some of the scenes are so fragile and so poetic. There is a sense of intimacy and yet a sense of spectacle and scale. This is really the first rock ’n’ roll score that I had ever done. Also, it is set in Philadelphia 1975–1976, and I grew up in Pittsburgh in that same time period. So I really relate to these people. Out of everything that I have written musically, I think that this is actually the closest to who I am. In my heart I was sort of writing it for my neighborhood. I just wanted to be very honest and very real, and emotionally direct, so any time it got musically too fancy, I would crumple up the paper.
How do you both feel about boxing?
Ahrens: Well, the first words out of my mouth were, “I hate boxing, I just have no connection to it!” But in the course of falling in love with the characters and realizing the potential it had to be a gorgeous story, I started researching boxing. So I started learning all the words and the terminology. A tomato can, for example, is a boxer who is a kind of punching bag for better boxers; he gets in the ring, gets all bloodied up, and he takes his pay and goes home. It has its own poetry. Then I read Joyce Carol Oates’s book called On Boxing and I fell in love with the world. I could see it from a completely different point of view as a woman — the art of it, the pain of it. Now does that mean that I enjoy watching them punch each other for real? No. But on the stage it is amazing. What the choreographers [Kelly Devine and Steven Hoggett] have created is quite unusual.
Flaherty: When you think about it, the 11 o’clock number of Rocky is that fight. Steven, the fight choreographer, is so sensitive to music, it is terrific. There is something really brutal, so lifelike, and so incredibly poetic as well. It is staging and movement and video and everything that you have heard in the show somehow colliding. Working with him and Alex [Timbers, the director] to create that was really thrilling.
The characters in Rocky are not particularly articulate, are they?
Ahrens: Right, but that’s fun. It’s a challenge, but lyrics are essentially poetry set to music. It is wonderful to find their poetry. They use simple words, they don’t have a fancy vocabulary, and yet there is something so primal about the way they express themselves that it lends itself to music. Just as an example, the character Mickey, who is the old grizzled boxer who runs the gym and wants very much to train Rocky: he is 76 years old and he has been mean to Rocky for years, so Rocky doesn’t want to deal with him. We have a song for him called “In the Ring,” which tells of his life in boxing. I just love the lyric to that song because it is poetic and yet it is grounded in the dark realities of the world of boxing: “They fought us like dogs in the boxcars at night and paid us in apples and booze.” That kind of language and imagery is very rich.
Flaherty: That particular song — I think it is an amazing song for an older actor — is all about manipulation because Mickey really wants to be the manager of Rocky and the whole song is sung to achieve that.
Are we going to hear the famous Rocky theme music in your score?
Flaherty: The minute you hear Bill Conti’s brass keys — I think that is in the DNA, not only of the character but in the mythology of Rocky, and to deny that it exists would be crazy. So I began to think of creative and exciting ways to weave it in and out of the score. Sometimes you just hear a rhythm, a harmonic progression. And, of course, we use it in surprising ways, I think. That’s the thing about Rocky: the people who love the film are expecting certain scenes to be on the stage, and for the people who don’t know the film, you have to be very clear. But we are taking a wonderful film and reimagining it for the theatre, and every moment has to be theatrical. You have to deliver and you have to stay ahead of the audience. So in every department we have really tried to make surprising choices.
Ahrens: Because we are dealing with a famous movie we have used the iconic moments, but we use them in unusual ways. It is kind of homage and still fresh.
Congratulations, by the way, on your 30th anniversary! How did you two meet?
Ahrens: We met at the BMI Musical Theater Workshop. It is really interesting to look back because we have had all these years of adventure — not just writing shows, but traveling, working abroad, Hollywood — and it has been fantastic.
Flaherty: I think I was maybe the luckiest composer ever because I met Lynn within a month of moving to New York in September of 1982, and within six months we began writing our first song together. Our methods were very different: I was this classically trained guy and Lynn was very in-the-moment.
Since one of you writes the music and the other the lyrics, how does the work come together?
Flaherty: Whenever I would write a lyric myself it would take me 30 words to get the idea across, but Lynn has a real spark. She could do it with five perfectly chosen words.
Ahrens: Aww! I could write a terrific melody with four chords because of my whole background as a self-taught musician, but, you know, when Stephen Flaherty puts his hands on the keys, something else happens that is so sophisticated, so beautiful, and so soulful. So I just gave up writing music. I surrendered to him. I do have some musical input and he has tons of lyrical input, but we just enjoy what the other does.
Flaherty: Oftentimes we work in the same room at the same time, trying to find a song, trying to find the emotion, the center of what it is about. I will come up with the idea of a musical feeling for a moment, and it usually comes from the characters’ emotional response in a very specific scene. And then Lynn will take that idea and build upon that. But oftentimes she will come up with a perfect lyric — like the song “Back to Before” from Ragtime. That was lyrics first, and not a single word changed.
Ahrens: We try very hard never to repeat the same kind of project. Every project is set in a different place, it’s a different story, has different themes. We also try to make a point of working a little bit differently each time. A few times I have thrown lyrics at Stephen and he throws music at me. So it really is very flexible and unpredictable.
Your three-decade partnership sounds like a successful marriage…
Flaherty: It is a marriage, and the interesting thing is that you have to keep in mind that you develop as individuals but you also develop as the team. When we first met I had just come out of college and had a beard and my writing was very serious; Lynn said, “Let’s do a comedy!” I needed to lighten up and be more playful in the way that I worked.
Ahrens: I think that I helped him to loosen up, but on the other hand, he had a vast knowledge of musical theatre and I did not. He knew about technique and how shows were constructed.
Flaherty: The whole idea of collaboration is about the synergy — what I bring, what Lynn brings, how those ideas meet — and hopefully at the end of the day it takes you to a place that you wouldn’t have arrived at if it were just you.
Information We Collect
Information we collect directly from you: Your provision of your personal information to Us is completely voluntary; it is not a statutory or contractual requirement. Personally Identifiable Information (“PII”) is information that is uniquely identifiable to you, such as your name, address, email address, phone number, credit card number and other personal information that is not otherwise publicly available. Certain features of Our website may require that you provide Us with your personal information, including:
Mobile Alert Sign-Up (SMS)
Contact Us (email)
Public forums (e.g. message boards)
E-commerce (ticket purchases)
Your use of any of the features above;
New content on Our website;
News that We think may interest you about Us;
Responses to your questions/comments to us; and
Information relating to a ticket purchase.
We may use your demographic information for in house statistics, advertising and marketing target information. Our processing of your personal information is necessary for the performance and fulfillment of the contract between us and to provide you with Our services. We will also process, transfer, disclose and preserve personal information when We have a good faith belief that doing so is necessary, to resolve disputes, enforce our agreements and otherwise required by law. You can always opt-out of receiving future promotional communications from Us; see the Choice/Opt-out section below.Information We Collect Automatically: Even if you don’t use any of the features above, when you visit Our website, We may collect certain information about you.
From your Browser. For example, Our servers keep an activity log that tracks all visitors to the website. The information in the activity log does not identify you individually. The information collected may include among other data: your IP address, your registered domain or home server, time of access, date of access, web page(s) visited, number of clicks, software crash reports, type of browser used, session identification number, search terms, search results, access times and referring website’s address. We use your IP address to help diagnose problems with Our server and to administer Our website. Your IP address is also used to gather broad demographic information, such as country of origin and geographic location. We use such data in the aggregate to run internal analyses to improve upon your experience on Our website.
Tracking Tags (also known as “web beacons,” “action tags” or “single-pixel gifs”). Our website may also use tracking tags. Tracking tags are invisible graphics embedded in the pages of Our website that are programmed to collect non-personal information about your use of Our website. Like cookies, tracking tags provide overall usage patterns for Our website that We use for analysis and to provide personalized services and advertising content.
We comply with the Self-Regulatory Principles for Online Behavioral Advertising set forth by the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA). You can opt-out of targeted advertising from certain providers at www.aboutads.info/consumers.
How We Use Your Personal Information
The personal information We collect allows Us to keep you posted on updates to Broadway Direct. It also helps Us to improve Our services, content, and advertising. If you don’t want to be on Our email list, you can opt out anytime by clicking the “unsubscribe” button or sending an unsubscribe email to [email protected]. From time to time, We may use your personal information to send transactional emails, such as communications about purchases and changes to Our terms, conditions, and policies. Because this information is important to your interaction with Broadway Direct, you may not opt out of receiving these communications. We may also use personal information for internal purposes such as auditing, data analysis, and research to improve Broadway Direct’s services, and customer communications. If you enter into a sweepstakes, contest, or similar promotion We may use the information you provide to administer those programs.
Information Collected By/Shared With Third Parties
Third Parties Doing Work for Us. Third parties have no rights to use any data We have collected on your behalf. However, We may employ other companies or individuals to perform functions on Our behalf, such as sending postal mail, email, and text messages, conducting sweepstakes/contests, prize fulfillment and promotional activities, analyzing data, providing marketing assistance, processing credit card payments and providing customer service. These outside suppliers, agents and vendors have access to your personal information only as needed to perform their functions.
Third Parties with Links from Our Website. From our website, you may be able to click on links to third party sites to buy tickets and merchandise and for other purposes. These third party sites may collect information, including personal information. We are not responsible for, nor do we have access to the information they collect. The collection of this information is governed by the privacy policies on the applicable third party sites.
Social Networking Services. Our website may integrate with social networking services. We do not control such services and are not liable for the manner in which they operate. While we may provide you with the ability to use such services in connection with our website, we are doing so merely as an accommodation and, like you, are relying upon those third party services to operate properly and fairly.
When necessary. We may also release personal information when we believe, in good faith, that such release is reasonably necessary to protect the rights, property or safety of Ourselves, Our clients, Our users, or others. We may disclose personal information about you to law enforcement, other government officials, or other third parties, as We, in our sole discretion, believe necessary or appropriate, in connection with an investigation of fraud, intellectual property infringement, or other activity that is illegal or may expose Us to legal liability.
Transactions With Third Party E-commerce Partners, Vendors and Advertisers
Delivery of Advertising and Other Content
In addition to ads and content that We may serve you directly, We use third-party advertising companies and marketing services companies to serve ads and other content when you visit Broadway Direct and elsewhere on the internet and in other media. Both We and these companies may use information about your visits to Broadway Direct and elsewhere to serve ads and other content to you. In the course of doing so, a unique third-party cookie may be placed or recognized on your browser by such companies. In addition, We and these companies may use Web beacons to help manage Our online advertising and content. These Web beacons enable Us and the third-party companies to recognize a browser’s cookie when a browser visits this Site and to learn which banner ads bring users to our website and to serve you ads that you may find of interest elsewhere on the internet and in other media. Both Broadway Direct and these companies may use information obtained from your visits to Broadway Direct or other websites, and information received from you offline in order to provide advertisements about goods and services and other content of interest to you across the internet and in other media. If you would like more information about this practice and to know your choices about not having this information used in this manner by Our third party advertising companies, please visit http://www.networkadvertising.org/optout_nonppii.asp and/or www.aboutads.info/choices. European users may opt out of receiving targeted advertising by visiting http://www.youronlinechoices.eu/. In addition, we may provide PII and Anonymous Information to marketing services companies. This may include information we received from you offline or online. These companies may combine information we provide (including PII and Anonymous Information) with personal and anonymous information they may have about you, using cookies they place or that We place on their behalf, as described in the section regarding “Cookies and Tracking Tags”. We require these companies to delete the PII we provide them. These companies may use the resulting non-personal information and such cookies for their own marketing purposes, and they may provide the same to their customers for their customer’s marketing purposes. Some of Our emails may contain tags that allow Us and Our advertisers and other partners to determine the types of content that may be of interest to you. Those tags may contain PII and may be shared with others to the same extent indicated in the section regarding “Cookies and Tracking Tags”. Those tags may not be deleted but you can opt out of receiving the emails.
Use of This Site by Children
The Site is not directed to individuals under the age of thirteen (13), and We request that such individuals do not provide personal information through the Site. If a parent or guardian becomes aware that his or her child has provided Us with PII without the parent or guardian’s consent by, for example, misrepresenting his or her age, that parent or guardian should contact us at [email protected]. If Broadway Direct determines that it has collected personal information of children under the age of 13, Broadway Direct will immediately delete such information and any accounts believed to be held by children under 13. In addition, we may not collect or process information from a citizen of an EU member state under the age of sixteen (16) without such person’s parental consent. If you are a citizen of an EU member state under the age of 16, please tell your parents that you are using the Site and have your parents email Us at [email protected] so that We may delete any information We may have collected about you.
California Civil Code § 1798.83 permits California residents to request information about whether we have disclosed personal information to any third parties for the third parties’ direct marketing purposes. California residents have the right to request in writing: (a) a list of the categories of Personal Information, such as name, email address and mailing address and the type of services provided to the customer that a business has disclosed to third parties (including affiliates that are separate legal entities) during the immediately preceding calendar year for the third parties’ direct marketing purposes and (b) the names and addresses of all such third parties. To make a request, please contact Us at the following email address: [email protected].
Rights of EU Data Subjects
If you are a resident of the European Union, under the GDPR, European Union residents, as data subjects, have the following rights:
Right to access – This right allows individuals to obtain confirmation as to whether or not personal information concerning him or her is being processed and provide access to such personal information. It also allows individuals to request details of the processing of his or her personal information, including, without limitation, categories of recipients to whom the personal information have been or will be disclosed and purposes of processing.
Right to rectify – This right allows individuals to rectify any inaccurate personal information about him or her.
Right to restrict processing – This right allows individuals to block or suppress processing of personal data under certain circumstances.
Right to be forgotten – This right is also known as the “right to erasure”. It is an individual’s right to have personal data erased or to prevent processing in specific circumstances.
Right of data portability – This right allows individuals to move, copy or transfer personal data from one place to another in a secure manner without interrupting the integrity and usability of the information.
Right to object to processing – This right allows individuals to object to certain types of processing, including direct marketing, profiling and providing for purposes of scientific or historical research and statistics.
An EU resident has the right to access his or her personal data that We hold and to ask that their personal data be corrected or erased and to port their data. An EU resident may also have the right to object to, or request that We restrict certain processing or to withdraw consent previously provided. If you would like to exercise your rights under the GDPR, please contact us at [email protected]. If you are an EU resident and have a concern about our processing of your personal data that we are not able to resolve, you have the right to lodge a complaint with the Data Protection Authority where you reside. For contact details of your relevant local Data Protection Authority, please see http://ec.europa.eu/newsroom/article29/item-detail.cfm?item_id=612080
Security of Your Personal Information
Broadway Direct employs reasonable security measures consistent with standard industry practice, for personal information collected through this Site, including physical, electronic and operational measures to maintain security and prevent unauthorized access. While Broadway Direct takes all appropriate steps to safeguard personal information under Our control, unfortunately, no data transmission over the Internet or method of storing data can be guaranteed to be 100% secure. As such, We cannot guarantee that personal information supplied by users will not be accessed on Our servers, or intercepted while being transmitted to Us over the Internet. We assume no liability for any damages you may suffer as a result of interception, alteration or misuse of information during such transfers.
We will retain your information for as long as your account or inquiry is active and for a reasonable time thereafter in accordance with Our standard procedures or as necessary to comply with Our legal obligations, to resolve disputes, and to enforce Our agreements. Even if We delete some or all of your Personal Information, We may continue to retain and use aggregate or anonymous data previously collected and/or anonymize or aggregate your Personal Information. Please note that We will not be liable for disclosures of your data due to errors or unauthorized acts of third parties.
This Site provides users the opportunity to opt-out of receiving communications from Us, at any time, by email at [email protected], or by clicking the unsubscribe link in any email communication. The Site gives users the following options for removing their information from our database, to not receive future communications or to no longer receive our service, at any time.
Users can send mail to the following postal address: Broadway Direct 1501 Broadway 14th floor New York, NY 10036
Users can call the following telephone number: (800) 223-6715.
Users can opt-out of receiving future newsletter emails from Us by selecting the “unsubscribe” link at the bottom of our email. However, We are not responsible for removing your information from the lists of any third party who has previously been provided with your information or is collecting your information through their cookies. You have the right to withdraw your consent for Our processing for your personal information by contacting us at [email protected].
This website gives users the following options for changing and modifying information previously provided, at any time.
Users can send mail to the following postal address: Broadway Direct 1501 Broadway 14th floor New York, NY 10036
Users can call the following telephone number: (800) 223-6715
In the event that We are, or any component of our operations is, merged with, or is acquired by, another entity, then any such successor or acquiring entity may become the successor to Our obligations with respect to the personal information that you have provided to Us, which would be necessary for the entity to effectively continue our business. By using this website, you consent to any transfer and use of such personal information by an entity assuming control of Our operations as a result of a merger, purchase of assets, or liquidation in bankruptcy or insolvency.