ONSTAGE & BACKSTAGE: Billy Elliot Beatboxes, Patti Does Eva and Ahrens and Flaherty Chat About Rocky

By Seth Rudetsky
13 May 2013

Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens

Then, they came up with the theme of the number—they decided the backstory was that Andrea and her song partner were an old Vaudeville duo but he never let her get the punchlines. She finally takes control and uses the song to get her revenge by tying him up and takes center stage. How did Andrea tie him up? With the help of three clowns (satisfyng Thommie Walsh) and since her co-star was bound and gagged, he didn't have to learn any new lyrics or dance steps! Perfect! Cut to: Andrea winning a Tony Award. Brava!

After discussing all of their theatre triumphs, I finally had to ask them about their upcoming musical…Rocky. I boldly asked them how they would explain themselves to people who think they're selling out. And explain they did! First of all, they told me that the original film was basically an independent movie, not written to be a big Hollywood blockbuster. It all began with Thomas Meehan who was working on it with Sylvester Stallone. Sylvester had gotten various Hollywood hitmakers (similar to Diane Warren) to start writing the score, but nothing was working. Thomas told him he needed a real musical theatre writing team and called Flaherty and Ahrens.

Stephen grew up in working class Pittsburgh and when he saw the movie in the ‘70's, he felt it was about his neighborhood. He and Lynn wrote some songs and went to Philly to perform them. Stephen knew there was no way he could sing the role of Rocky in front of the actor who played Rocky, so they hired a singer to do it. They said that not only did Stallone have tears in his eyes during the songs, but he then slammed his fist on the desk and proclaimed, "That's the way to write it!" The show rehearsed in Germany for a Hamburg premiere and Stephen and Lynn said it was bizarre to work on a new show and make changes while it's being performed in another language! Lynn would write English lyrics and then someone there would write them in German. They wouldn't translate it literally (or else it wouldn't rhyme) so they'd have to be translated back so Lynn could approve them. What a (German word for) headache! They said the final fight sequence is incredible and creative but wouldn't give me any info about how it's done. Sheisse!