At first glance, Lombardi runs the risk of traveling into cheesy TV biopic territory. Led by two televisions stars who haven’t been relevant to pop culture since the 80s, the play focuses on the life of legendary football coach Vince Lombardi, who was famous for leading the Green Bay Packers to an astonishing five championships. The Super Bowl trophy is named after him (as is a service area on the New Jersey Turnpike). This man’s career wasn’t filled with failure, nor was his life, with his happy marriage to Marie Lombardi. These initial red flags completely fade, as Dan Lauria and Judith Light give delightful and commanding performances and playwright Eric Simonson uses Lombardi’s life to tell an interesting story that comments on celebrity and media.
Budding journalist Michael McCormick arrives at the Lombardi household on a profile writing assignment of the football coach. The Lombardis host him for a week, over the course of which Lombardi flip flops between practically making him the team mascot and punting him off the field for his constant prying and interrupting of Lombardi’s rigid practice rules. Things really heat up when Lombardi demands to see Michael’s article before it’s published, setting off the play’s most interesting aspect of censorship and journalistic ethics.
Lombardi is an extremely fun, yet simple story that gives an intriguing behind-the-scenes look at a hot NFL team in the 1960s. Directed with great energy by Thomas Kail, the show keeps a steady pace as these characters become increasingly watchable. I felt like I could watch what happened inside the Lombardi household for hours.
Lauria is a dead-on choice for Lombardi, yet delivers far beyond physical similarities with a stage-engulfing presence and not-to-be-messed-with yell. (How does Lauria have a voice even after one performance?) He walks the line between nurturer and slave driver with ease, yet even in his toughest moments, there’s a softness to him.
While earnest, Keith Knobbs is irritatingly eager, showing off Michael’s youth in such a way that he might as well be hitting the audience over the head with a bat. Knobbs’ journalist is one we’ve seen all too many times. He’s pesky, has a two-dimensional personality, and the guy could bone up on his basic social skills. Enough with these kinds of fictional journalists already! (Honestly y’all, we’re not like that)
Light runs away with every scene she’s in, with her boozy, dry-humored Marie. She hits the Mad Men notes harder than the entire production of Promises, Promises, which so desperately tried to. But Light’s humor gives way to true affection for her husband; a marriage which she and Lauria build beautifully.
The play makes a weak attempt to paint Michael as a chance for Lombardi to redeem himself for his strained relationship with his son, as a result of overshadowing him during his childhood. Knobbs and Lauria make a go for it, but Simonson hasn’t fully fleshed it out and the plot point seems like an afterthought.
Lombardi works extremely well in the Circle in the Square Theatre. The production uses the venue’s in-the-round physicality to its advantage, which is more that can be said for The Miracle Worker, the last play to inhabit the theater. Were the producers staking out this theater, or was it just a wonderful Broadway coincidence? The Circle in the Square imitates a stadium—how appropriate. The sports arena look adds a great affect to the production, with much credit going to the lighting and video designs of Howell Binkley and Zachary Borovay, respectively.
Lombardi has received lots of press for drawing atypical theatergoers—ahem, sports fans—to Broadway. As I took my seat for the performance, I saw a man in a Green Bay jersey take a seat in the back row of the theater. It looked like a typical scene out of the nosebleed section of a stadium. I bet Broadway surprised Mr. Green Bay just as much as Lombardi surprised me.
Student rush and general rush:
Lombardi has both a student and general rush policy. Both sets of tickets go on sale when the box office opens. Student rush tickets cost $27 and general rush tickets cost $37. Only one ticket per person may be purchased.