Terence Archie is no stranger to the work of songwriters Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, having made his Broadway debut understudying the role of Coalhouse Walker Jr. in the 2010 revival of Ragtime. So when Ahrens sent him an e-mail about being part of her latest project, he didn't question it, even if the Tony-winning lyricist wasn't particularly specific about what that project actually was. Turns out it was Rocky, Ahrens & Flaherty's musical adaptation of the Oscar-winning Sylvester Stallone film, featuring a book by Stallone himself and theater legend Thomas Meehan.
Archie, who made a New York name for himself in 2010 as the title role in Kristoffer Diaz's wrestling-themed The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, was assigned to the role of blustery boxing champ Apollo Creed, memorably played on-screen by Carl Weathers. Not only did Archie play the part in the readings, he even appeared in the now-fabled pre-Broadway tryout in Hamburg, Germany, where he performed in the country's native language.
As he prepared to repeat his performance on Broadway (the only member of the German company to do so), TheaterMania chatted with Archie about working on the elaborate new musical, re-creating a realistic boxing match eight times a week, and sculpting his impressive abs with the help of Sylvester Stallone.
You've been aboard this project since the very beginning. How was the idea of Rocky as a musical pitched to you?
I think it was probably a little over three years ago when Lynn Ahrens sent me an e-mail about a project that she wanted me to sing for. She was very cryptic about it; she didn't give me any specific details, but she wanted to know if I sang in the R&B style. I assured her I did and slowly the process got started. When I realized it was Rocky, I said, "Sure, why not?" I felt kind of good about the possibility of success with something like that.
You went on to play the role in the German production and you performed the show in that language. How difficult was that for you as an American performer?
It was the most challenging professional experience I ever had. I had to put a lot of my ego aside. It wasn't about me trying to exercise my great artistic choices. I really had to listen to the input of those who were teaching me the language and the culture. Moreso than an artist, I was a student, constantly trying to see how to best communicate the story in a way I didn't know.
How long did it take you to know the language?
It took me a few…To really know it, maybe three to four weeks. You use that term "know." I'm just saying I could get the words out of my mouth. [laughs] To get them to sound intelligible to a German speaker, that took months.
From what I've heard about that production, the audiences were enthusiastic.
They were very supportive. You have a lot of hardcore Rocky fans, just like in America. One thing that's different about the audience over there is that they will give you five hundred standing ovations. If you don't get at least two, then something is wrong. [laughs] They're very enthusiastic about the process.
Tell me about your training techniques.
I got in touch with a trainer, by the name of Corey Jacoby, in Los Angeles. I was doing Chad Diety, and at that time I weighed like 210 pounds. The first thing I realized I would have to do was get in good boxing shape and lose some weight. I ended up losing 20 pounds so I could lean out. We'd get up in the morning and we'd go to the park and drill the core basics of boxing. We jump our rope and work out until I couldn't stand anymore. That is the basis of my training, in addition to watching my diet.
You and Andy Karl literally go punch for punch in the boxing ring. You guys are actually hitting each other?
We are hitting each other. Certainly not with the force you see in Holyfield or Tyson. We do hit each other and sometimes the hits are harder than we intend them to be. We go over the fight every day during fight call.
Is it tiring to do a nearly twenty-minute fight night after night?
I don't put any intention behind it when I'm actually rehearsing it. When I put the intention behind it, I find it makes me a lot more tired. When I'm doing the fight in the actual show, yes, I'm exhausted. We're not just boxing, we're telling a story and having a conversation with our fists. You have to invest your whole body and soul. I love the opportunity to take on a challenge like this. It taught me a lot about what I can do with my body.
What's the best piece of advice Sylvester Stallone has provided throughout the entire process?
I would say, generally, his focus has been — to me and everyone else — to make sure that we focus on the love story. There are a lot of different aspects of love in this story; it's not just about Adrian and Rocky. It's about people trying to achieve their dreams. Everybody has something that they love in the show, whether it's Apollo, who makes sure he cements his legacy, or Rocky, who doesn't want to be a bum anymore. That's something Stallone has really nailed down for us, that it doesn't just become a show about boxing. (pause) He's also showed me a lot about how to build my abdominal muscles. [laughs] He's a good person to talk to about fitness, and he's not shy about offering to help.