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Blank Canvas’ holiday offering of ‘Rocky’ rings in the holidays

Rocky...The Musical??? Really? What were they thinking? It also turns out to be a Christmas show with all of the action taking place between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. Hey, if Bruce’s “Die Hard” can get away with it why not Sylvester and Co.?

The musical pretty much follows the first “Rocky” that debuted in 1976 and was followed by six sequels ending in the final installment in 2006 with “Rocky Balboa”. With songs such as “Ain’t Down Yet”, “My Nose Ain’t Broken”, “Fight From The Heart”, “Keep On Standing” and Undefeated Man” you will find yourself swept up in the action with the fight themed lyrics.

It is 1976 and Rocky (Michael Snider) is a down on his luck boxer getting close to his expiration date. He fights no name boxers for $40 a contest while during the day he’s an enforcer for a loan shark. The problem is, Rocky doesn’t have the heart to hurt his victims. He dreams of one day getting his big break but until then his life is as gray as the Philadelphia winter sky.

He lives alone with two turtles (named K and O). Mikey (John Lynch), who runs the gym where he trains has taken his locker away. His only social contact is when he goes to the local pet store to buy turtle food and tries to woo Adrian (Carolyn Demanelis) whom he has known since grade school and is hopelessly in love with. She on the other hand is too shy to date. She lives with her brother, Pauli (Steve Brown) who is married to Gloria (Allison Naso) and while Pauli is a good provider, he drinks too much.

This all gets turned around when Apollo Creed (Matt Deus), championship heavy weight boxer of the world, has his New Year’s Day featured opponent dropping out due to a broken hand. As Apollo mulls over the situation he asks if there is anyone local in Philadelphia that would be a worthy opponent to fight him. Rocky’s name comes up mainly because of his nick-name “The Italian Stallion”. The wheels are put into motion to recruit Rocky to fight Apollo on January 1st. The odds are not in Rocky’s favor as Apollo is known for knocking out his opponents in the first round.

Rocky is invited to Pauli’s house for Thanksgiving and when Adrian arrives she refuses to go out with Rocky. Pauli in a drunken rage throws the turkey out the window and gets thrown out of the house himself. In spite of this, Adrian does finally goes out with Rocky to the local skating rink which although closed lets them on the ice for $10 for ten minutes. As the clock ticks away, Rocky works fast to show that he is good dating material if just given a chance.

Blank Canvas has a knack of taking the most ridiculous premise and turning it into gold on their living room size stage. This show is no exception. The casting is brilliant with Michael Snider looking very buff and convincing as the prize fighter (complete with the required “YO!” which seems to be Adrian’s first name). Carolyn Demanelis is demure and understated as the romantic lead with a smoldering fire just under the surface. John Lynch as the ancient fighter with decades of experience and advice nearly steals the show. Steve Brown plays the alcoholic husband, brother and friend to a fine degree and Allison Naso as Gloria has the unfiltered mouth with the unwanted skill to say exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time. Matt Deus as Apollo Creed portrays all of the bluster needed for the part.

The set is cleverly designed and heavily relies on video projections designed by director Patrick Ciamacco which work very well to propel the story and add a sense of authenticity. Patrick also handles the fight choreography that is actually quite convincing. Lastly, he designed the lighting and sound that is perfectly matched to the stage size. The nine piece orchestra conducted by Oliver Deak does a superb job with the score. Kate Gibson handles the choreography of the rest of the cast moving everyone around on the tiny stage with out crashing into each other. Jenniver Sparano dresses everyone in authentic 70s garb.

If you have had your fill of the “holly jolly” and would like a little action in your holiday viewing this is an excellent show to seek out. It’s a familiar story that we all know and love that is told with heart and soul. It’s a fun evening of theater that will knock you out. YO!

The Blank Canvas production of “Rocky” will be on stage in the 78th Street Studios Complex located at 1305 W. 78th Street (Suite 211) in Cleveland, Ohio through December16, 2023. For more information go to or call (440) 941-0458.


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Who is Mark Horning?

Over the course of my life I have worked a variety of jobs including newspapers, retail camera sales and photography. Eight years ago I embarked on yet another career as writer. This included articles concerning sports and cultural events in Cleveland, Ohio as well reviews of the many theatrical productions around town. These days are spent photographing professional dance groups, theater companies and various galas and festivals as well as attending various stage performances and posting reviews about them.  

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