×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Lombardi

Fans should be mesmerized by Dan Lauria's spot-on impersonation of the famously hot-tempered Lombardi.

With:
Vincent Lombardi - Dan Lauria Michael McCormick - Keith Nobbs Marie Lombardi - Judith Light Dave Robinson - Robert Christopher Riley Paul Hornung - Bill Dawes Jim Taylor - Chris Sullivan

Can “Lombardi” be the show to overcome Broadway’s ingrained disdain for sports-themed plays? That depends on audience expectations of Eric Simonson’s biodrama (based on a book by David Maraniss) about Hall of Fame football coach Vince Lombardi. Fans content just to spend a few hours in the company of this great guy should be mesmerized by Dan Lauria’s spot-on impersonation of the famously hot-tempered Lombardi. More sports-minded auds, eager for insights on how this legendary coach famously guided the Green Bay Packers to five Super Bowl championships, might want to know why the show spends so little time on the gridiron. Lauria, the lovably grumpy sitcom dad on “The Wonder Years,” brings that endearing quality to his scrappy portrait of Lombardi as the surrogate father who bullied, scolded, cheered and dragged the Packers out of the NFL cellar and on to glory. Working off his own bulldog physique and gap-toothed grin, Lauria achieves an eerie physical resemblance to Lombardi, who used his whole body to speak his mind.

The coach was a shouter, on and off the field, and Lauria’s fine ear is attuned to the humor of hearing that loud, raspy voice straining to hold a civilized conversation in an enclosed space. Whether he’s bellowing at his beloved wife, Marie (Judith Light), or shouting at Michael McCormick (Keith Nobbs), the reporter who has come to Wisconsin to write a feature story on him for Look magazine, Lombardi is too honestly outspoken to cover his thoughts by lowering his voice.

Faced with the challenge of streamlining a great big life into two puny stage hours, scribe Eric Simonson(who also feeds scripts to Steppenwolf) lands on a dramatic moment in 1965 when it was do-or-die for the Packers. They could either reclaim their lost crown as champions of the NFL or retain their humiliating second-place status and eat dirt.

To pump up the drama, Simonson invents the character of McCormick, the tyro journo (played by Nobbs with a nice easy manner and boyish charm) whose chorus-like function is to feed info to the aud without getting in the way of the action. Except, as the play is constructed, there really isn’t much action to get in the way of.

Once McCormick has been installed in the Lombardi household and given his first taste of the famous Lombardi temper, the play hops back in time to tackle the issue of why the coach is so obsessed with winning — and so threatened by the suggestion of losing. (Coming in second means being consigned to “the losers’ bowl … the toilet bowl.”)

In a telling scene set in 1958, Lombardi is living in New Jersey and so frustrated in his foiled ambition to be a head coach in the NFL that he’s thinking of giving up football altogether to become a bank executive. Lauria paces the stage (and finds no place to hide from Howell Binkley’s stark lighting) in this subdued scene, quietly intimating that Lombardi would rather die — if that wouldn’t make him an even bigger loser.

The call from Jack Vainisi, offering the Packers job, puts an end to those gloomy thoughts. But it comes too soon, dramatically, closing off the issue before it’s fully explored. And aside from a tossed-off comment, later in the play, that Lombardi’s mother was “a perfectionist,” we’re denied the biographical specifics of that fierce, burning, fire-in-the-gut compulsion to win and win and win and keep winning or you die. Or, even more to the point, of the psychological origins of his absolute horror of loss.

“This is a cruel and tough business,” he instructs his surrogate children. “When we lose, we’re gone.”

What we get, instead, are lots of well-written (and well-acted, under Thomas Kail’s attentive helming) scenes of how that compulsion drives Lombardi to the astounding feats of success he pulls off in Green Bay. Putting aside the question of why Bart Starr, the Packers’ star quarterback, doesn’t appear in this play, the team is well represented by Robert Christopher Riley as outside linebacker Dave Robinson, Bill Dawes as running back Paul Hornung, and husky Chris Sullivan as fullback Jim Taylor, the only player with “grievances.”

But it’s a crying shame that we don’t get to see more action on the gridiron. Although it’s constructed a bit like a football field, let’s be real and admit that the stage at the Circle in the Square can’t accommodate a game. Nonetheless, the dinky screens set up for Zachary Borovay’s projections are entirely inadequate, denying the production the game scenes that would have added more excitement.

In the end, the show hangs on the character of Lombardi and Lauria’s compelling performance. And while this inspirational figure seems oblivious to the personal cost of his drive for success (he neglected his health and died of colon cancer at 57), his wife is always standing right there to remind us. Light is an absolute treasure as the hard-drinking, straight-talking Marie, so tightly coiled in her restraining period costumes and hairdo, she looks lacquered.

But she melts easily, and whether he knows it or not, he’ll never be a loser in her eyes.

Popular on Variety

Lombardi

Circle in the Square; 788 seats; $115 top

Production: A Fran Kirmser, Tony Ponturo, Friends of Lombardi presentation, in association with the National Football League and associate producers John Favorito, Andrew Frank & John Mara Jr., Rebecca Gold, Al Kahn, Myla Lerner, Lauren Stevens, S.D. Wagner & John Johnson, of a play in one act by Eric Simonson, based on the book, "When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi," by David Maraniss. Directed by Thomas Kail.

Creative: Sets, David Korins; costumes, Paul Tazewell; lighting, Howell Binkley; sound, Acme Sound Partners; projections, Zachary Borovay; hair, Charles LaPointe; dialect coach, Stephen Gabis; production stage manager, Tripp Phillips. Reviewed Oct. 16, 2010. Opened Oct. 21. Running time: 1 HOUR, 35 MIN.

Cast: Vincent Lombardi - Dan Lauria Michael McCormick - Keith Nobbs Marie Lombardi - Judith Light Dave Robinson - Robert Christopher Riley Paul Hornung - Bill Dawes Jim Taylor - Chris Sullivan

More Legit

  • The Sound Inside review

    Broadway Review: 'The Sound Inside' Starring Mary-Louise Parker

    Mary-Louise Parker will take your breath away with her deeply felt and sensitively drawn portrait of a tenured Yale professor who treasures great literature, but has made no room in her life for someone to share that love with. The other thesp in this two-hander is Will Hochman, endearing in the supportive role of a [...]

  • Little Shop of Horrors review

    Off Broadway Review: 'Little Shop of Horrors'

    With its strains of kitschy doo-wop and its sci-fi B-movie inspirations, the quaint 1982 musical “Little Shop of Horrors” hardly seems a thing of modern-day revivalism, even despite its touches of S&M. Yet this year alone, not only is there an Off Broadway production of the blackly comic “Little Shop” featuring Jonathan Groff of Netflix’s [...]

  • The Lightning Thief review musical

    Broadway Review: 'The Lightning Thief,' The Musical

    “It’s a lot to take in right now,” says Percy Jackson, the teen hero of “The Lightning Thief,” the kid-centric fantasy musical (based on the popular Y.A. novel) that’s now on Broadway after touring the country and playing an Off Broadway run. You could say that’s a bit of an understatement from contemporary teen Percy [...]

  • The Rose Tattoo review

    Broadway Review: 'The Rose Tattoo' Starring Marisa Tomei

    “The Rose Tattoo” is what happens when a poet writes a comedy — something strange, but kind of lovely. The same might be said of director Trip Cullman’s production: Strange, if not exactly lovely. Even Marisa Tomei, so physically delicate and expressively refined, seems an odd choice to play the lusty and passionate protagonist, Serafina [...]

  • Obit-Roy-B

    Former NATO President Roy B. White Dies at 93

    Roy B. White, former president and chairman of the National Association of Theater Owners, died of natural causes Oct. 11 in Naples, Fla. He was 93. White ran the 100-screen independent theater circuit, Mid–States Theaters Inc. In addition to his career, he did extensive work on behalf of charities and non-profits. He was vice president [...]

  • Soft Power review

    Off Broadway Review: 'Soft Power'

    The “culture-clash musical” is a familiar template, in which a white American protagonist — waving the flag of individuality, optimism and freedom — trumps and tramps over the complexities of that which is foreign, challenging or “other.” David Henry Hwang and Jeanine Tesori’s “Soft Power,” the new “play with a musical” at Off Broadway’s Public [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content