Thursday, October 28, 2010

Lombardi (The SOB Review)

Lombardi (The SOB Review) - Circle in the Square Theatre, New York, New York

**1/2 (out of ****)

Want to see a grown man cry?

I'm talking about the type of guy who religiously spends each and every Sunday afternoon watching pro football, either in person or in the comfort of his own living room. You know the kind. One who likely never had Broadway, let alone live theatre, on his radar screen.

That is, until the NFL-produced Lombardi entered the field of new shows opening on the Great White Way this fall. The outpouring of emotions all around me in the audience from those very types of grown men was palpable. So choked up was one gentleman seated behind me that he began sobbing near the end of the play as it became clear that -- just as in real life -- there would be no happy ending for Vince Lombardi. And when the lights came on, there were plenty of other men with red eyes in the house.

If there's one lesson to be gleaned from the sturdy, yet astonishingly vincible Lombardi, which opened last week on Broadway, it isn't that someone other than Vince Lombardi coined the phrase, "Winning isn't everything -- it's the only thing." No, it's that the revered football coach who turned around the Green Bay Packers isn't some outlandish hagiographic caricature. Instead, to his credit, playwright Eric Simonson offers a Lombardi who is very human and highly fallible.

Fortuanately, director Thomas Kail has the winning Dan Lauria on his team tackling the title role. So effective is Lauria that his imposing presence is felt onstage even when he's not on it. Additionally, his uncanny resemblance to Lombardi is astounding. As the coach's long-suffering wife Marie, the intoxicatingly droll Judith Light pours wry observations along with wit that's every bit as dry as the martinis she's constantly swilling.

Yet somehow, this likable Lombardi feels incomplete. If Lombardi is not quite the touchdown Simonson and Kail have strived for, it's largely because they haven't provided a level playing field. Much, perhaps too much, attention in this playbook is given to the coach's fierce devotion to teamwork, but it comes at the expense of providing any real nuance to Lombardi himself. The very heart of what made this coach a true champion is fumbled, relying too heavily on exposition from the huddle of Marie and team members, as well as a fictitious journalist, to fill in what few blanks the playwright allows.

But ask the guys around me at Lombardi if all that matters, and I'll bet they'd insist I simply made a bad call on the play.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

In keeping with the new Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulations that unfairly discriminate against bloggers, who are now required by law to disclose when they have received anything of value they might write about, please note that I have received nothing of value in exchange for this post.

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At 28 October, 2010, Blogger Pat said...

Steve, I saw this early in previews and simply loved it. Having grown up in a football obsessed household (my father bought our first color TV to watch Superbowl 1,) where I was the musical theatre obsessed little outsider in the corner, I found all the names from football history coming back to me. Lauria's Vince was layered nuanced and human even in the midst of his bullish tirades. His partnership with Judith Light was magic and their chemistry palpable. She in fact was the total definition of supporting actress since EVERYONE on stage was better at their jobs when they were playing opposite her. Her withering stares at Lauria when he dared bellow at her we comic magic and she did not need funny things to say. She just said things funny. I hope this play makes a run long enough to be here for awards season. It deserves all of them!

At 28 October, 2010, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

I couldn't agree more with you about Judith Light's performance -- it was perfection.

Like you, having grown up in a football lover's household (and in Wisconsin, no less), the names were all part of my lexicon growing up and the actors certainly helped make these names come alive.

Having grown up a cheesehead, I also enjoyed the sprinkling of Wisconsin flourishes. When Judith Light's Marie trades in Bloomingdales for Prange's, well, that was priceless for those of us who knew the store well.

While I can't say I loved the show, I certainly admired and enjoyed it, and I would not hesitate in recommending it to anyone who loves football, either.


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