Football legends on the Great White Way? “Lombardi,” the newest Broadway play based on Eric Simonson’s biography “When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi,” seems a bit out of place nestled next to the blockbuster musical, “Wicked,” at Circle in the Square Theatre.
However, thanks to Tony nominated director Thomas Kail, and a top notch cast and creative team, “Lombardi” keeps both Broadway purists and Cheeseheads happy.
Lombardi is a snapshot of the infamous Vince Lombardi’s life and short coaching career at Green Bay. The play follows fictional reporter Michael McCormick, played by Keith Nobbs, as he spends a week with the Packers and their beloved coach.
McCormick not only attends practice with Lombardi, but also lives with the coach and his wife Marie for the week and ends up learning a lot more than football statistics.
The small yet strong cast is responsible for the positive reviews of “Lombardi.” Dan Lauria of “The Wonder Years” is an impeccable Lombardi.
From the quick shuffle of his feet to the way he fingers rosary beads and mumbles prayers, Lauria has captured the spirit of the famously gruff coach.
A Brooklyn-born, Italian-American just like Lombardi, Lauria takes on the coach’s accent and temper perfectly.
To balance out Lauria’s passion is the outstanding Judith Light as Marie Lombardi. The two time Emmy award winning actress fills the tough love role of Lombardi’s wife with ease. Like Lombardi, Marie helps to keep the “boys” in line, but with a motherly compassion that she also bestows on McCormick. The interactions between McCormick and Marie are when the real story of “Lombardi” comes to life.
However, the interactions between Marie and Vince are those rare moments in theater that allows the audience to look beyond the actual production into the heart of the story, the heart of human nature.
Lauria and Light play off each other flawlessly and tie the rest of the cast seamlessly together.
Players Paul Hornung, played by Bill Dawes, Dave Robinson, played by Robert Christopher Riley, and Jim Taylor, played by Chris Sullivan, are as convincing as an on-stage NFL player can be. The boys provide great insight into both Vince and Marie’s relationship with the team and into the mind of the players themselves.
Thankfully, the boys are not required to awkwardly act out any actual football action. Playing in a theater-in-the-round, “Lombardi” has a few tricks up its sleeves to keep the entire audience involved, such as revolving sets and floor projections.
Game action is shown through actual clips of the Packers as well as on surrounding screens. The special effects of “Lombardi” are simple and necessary to make the theatrical setting work.
During one particularly excellent staging moment, Lauria gives a famous Lombardi “chalk talk” speech as the x’s and o’s scrawl themselves across the stage floor, laying out the Packer’s big plays.
Baseball and Broadway have had their starring unions: there’s the classic Damn Yankees and just this past summer the American Repertory Theater put on Johnny Baseball, a musical about the Red Sox. For some reason, baseball players seem much more likely to prance around on stage singing, but football is a whole different story. “Lombardi” works well as a straight play. The no-nonesense approach reflects Lombardi’s coaching style.
The play itself is strong enough to keep regular theatre goers satisfied. However, thanks to advertising deals with the NFL, “Lombardi” may be able to draw in a whole new demographic for Broadway theater.
“Lombardi” will thrive with out-of-towners and, would most likely do well on a tour through the country’s big football towns. Who knows? Maybe Lauria’s life will continue to reflect Lombardi’s. He may find himself in Green Bay very soon.
Meghan Dixon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.