Dec 11 2010
The leading lady’s lines go like this: “How do I look? I never thought turquoise was my color, but the sales lady at Prange’s talked me into it.”
The audience hoots, and a few of us even understand the Prange’s context. The deadpan delivery of actress Judith Light (from TV’s “Who’s the Boss?” and “Ugly Betty”) isn’t something you’d expect in a play about a no-nonsense sports icon, but these light comedic touches from a steely spouse almost steal the show as we delve deep into the soul of Vince Lombardi on Broadway.
Lombardi on Broadway? What’s next, Brett Favre on stage with the New York City Ballet?
“It’s a dream really, because I grew up in Wisconsin and Lombardi is part of its folklore,” says playwright Eric Simonson, a Milwaukee native, about bringing his play “Lombardi” to Manhattan. “They say write what you know, and I know Lombardi and Wisconsin.”
The Academy Award winner (for a 2005 documentary about radio broadcaster Norman Corwin) lives in Los Angeles and describes writing for Broadway as “very cool … sort of the World Series of the theater world.”
“Lombardi” opened this autumn and will stay on Broadway until at least late February. The work began as a Madison Repertory Theatre production about the coach’s inner struggles, physical and mental. In a dream sequence, Lombardi contemplated life while playing sheepshead with St. Ignatius, John F. Kennedy and a couple of others who influenced his values.
“The producers of the Broadway show, Tony Ponturo and Fran Kirmser, wanted something that told a more complete story – a chronology of Lombardi’s life and his ideals,” Eric explains, during an interview. “I agreed with them that the whole ‘Lombardi in purgatory’ angle might not suit the Broadway crowd.”
The Broadway script also substitutes an upstart “Look” magazine sportswriter for Bud Lea, the longtime Wisconsin sportswriter (who had a place in the Madison Rep production), and we see more of life from the perspective of Marie Lombardi (Judith Light’s role).
“She-BOY-gan,” she reads, with dismay, while inspecting a map of Wisconsin. “Kee-WAH-nee.” The move to Green Bay brings her to tears, and the crowd chuckles once again.
Dan Lauria (the dad on TV’s “The Wonder Years”) assumes the title role with a gapped-tooth verve and vinegar. Lombardi “was my idol long before he went to Green Bay,” the actor explains, during a TV interview. “It was like playing football (which he did in high school and college) – I couldn’t wait to get out there” and portray the coach on stage.
He notes – with approval – that Packer fans sometimes show up wearing team jerseys, or bring Cheesehead hats. What their ticket buys is a 90-minute look at husband-wife, coach-player and (a hint of) father-son dynamics. The game involves news gathering obstacles and fair wage tussles, as well as football.
Did anybody consider making the story into a musical?
“No, never,” the playwright says. “That’s one Lombardi story I don’t think I could ever write. Or if I did, I’d make Lombardi tone deaf.”
Tickets to the Broadway production of “Lombardi” are on sale through Feb. 20. For more: www.lombardibroadway.com. The performance takes place at Circle in the Square Theatre, 235 W. 50th St., just west of Broadway.
When ordered through the theater, ticket cost is $115 to $200, plus service charges. Another option: Take your chances while in line at a TKTS discount booth, where day-of-show tickets are sold. For more: www.tdf.org (see “ticket services”).
Tickets for “Lombardi” are as low as $59 through www.playbill.com, but you need join the Playbill Club (there is no fee). Day-of-show rush tickets sometimes are even lower at the theater box office (get there before it opens).
On Tuesdays, sports experts lead audience discussion after the “Lombardi” performance. Among these featured guests: former Green Bay Packers, New York sports broadcasters and authors, including Pulitzer Prize winner David Maraniss, author of the best-seller “When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi,” the book upon which the Broadway play is based.
In the theater lobby is a glass display case with Lombardi era artifacts: a Packers-autographed football from Super Bowl I, game plays, a Lombardi team jacket, a college yearbook. On walls are other Pro Football Hall of Fame paraphernalia, including a bench from the 1967 Ice Bowl and jerseys worn by quarterback Bart Starr, linebacker Ray Nitschke and fullback Jim Taylor.
A 90-minute HBO television documentary about Vince Lombardi debuts this month. For other show dates, consult www.hbo.com.
The coach’s story turns into a theatrical motion picture in 2012, with Robert De Niro as the lead. The ESPN Films version of “Lombardi” is tentatively set for release during the weekend between the AFC/NFC conference championships and the Super Bowl.
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