Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Lombardi @ Circle in the Square Theatre
Vincent Lombardi once said, “Nobody’s perfect. Some of us strive for it, but nobody’s perfect.” Clearly, he never saw the play Lombardi, the new Broadway smash currently playing at the Circle In The Square theatre, because it quite simply is “perfect.”
Lombardi tells the incredible true story of Vincent Lombardi, the best coach that football has ever seen. Getting nowhere with his football career, Lombardi (played by Dan Lauria) is about to pack it all in and become a banker; however, a call comes in from the Green Bay Packers offering him the head coach position. It is not long before Lombardi and his wife Marie (played by Judith Light) are off to Green Bay, where he is about to change the face of football forever. It is now seven years later, and Lombardi now has two NFL Championships under his belt, and is working towards his third. In the wake of this, news writer Michael McCormick (played by Keith Nobbs) is sent out to Green Bay to write an article about him and the 1965 Packers team. Famous players from this team included Dave Robinson (played by Robert Christopher Riley), Paul Hornung (played by Bill Dawes), and Jim Taylor (played by Chris Sullivan). McCormick desperately tries to capture the tempered but loveable Lombardi in his full glory just before a big game. With excitement, heart, soul, and style, the play Lombardi shines, and rightfully takes its place as the great new American play.
The six person ensemble of Lombardi works stunningly together to give this stunning new play affection that it deserves. Dan Lauria (known from television’s The Wonder Years) brings Vincent Lombardi back in a big way, delivering a performance that is truly moving. Lauria does a brilliant job at showing that many sides of Lombardi – husband, father, Christian, and coach. His vision of how soft the famous hot headed Lombardi was just stunning; he took the audience on a journey of the ups and downs of football and family. It was clear that Lauria loved playing this part as much as Lombardi loved football – a whole lot. Playing the sometimes tipsy but always loving Marie is Judith Light (known from television’s Guiding Light and Ugly Betty). Light delivers a sure to be Tony nominated performance in this role. She showed just how hard it can be to be in love with someone who loves something else more a few months out of every year. Light, as Marie, shows the love for husband, that Lombardi shows to his players. With moments of humor, pain, celebration, and remorse, Light give a truly radiant performance that was nothing short of brilliant. Playing the only fictional character in this production is Keith Nobbs (known for his works in The Lion in Winter and Dog Sees God) as the reporter Michael McCormick. Being the narrator of a production is never easy, but Nobbs does it with such ease and heart that the audience cannot help but feel for his character. He gives a grade A performance, which could not have come easy considering that he is the only member of the cast that could not fully research his character. Each of the other five actors, had access to countless photos, reels, and speeches of their characters. The partnership with the National Football League allowed for these talented actors to have access to anything that they needed to fully become that coach, player, and wife. These moves definitely pay off because the entire ensemble delivers a simply stunning performance.
Lombardi features wonderful technical aspects as well. With a script penned by Eric Simonson (who also penned Slaughterhouse–Five), based upon the bestselling biography When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi by David Maraniss, Lombardi delivers a truly heartwarming message of hope. This stellar script comes to life with a fantastic production team lead by director Thomas Kail (director of Broadway’s In the Heights). Directing and designing Lombardi was no easy feat, given the fact that the production is done in the round giving the play the awesome look and feel a football stadium. While putting a show in the round (meaning that audience members surround the stage) could cause some problems, Kail does a great job of constantly keeping the scenes moving in a way that is easefully and never slows down the movement of the show. Scenic design by David Korins (last seen on Broadway with The Pee-Wee Herman Show) and projection design by Zachary Borovay (currently with design in Rock of Ages) made this piece even more amazing. The scenic elements were all very simple, but never left the audience guessing where the scene was taking place; and, the projections were designed to show on the floor of the stage allowing for a great flow of scene changes. The stand out of this production technically was the brilliant lighting design by Howell Binkley (currently represented on Broadway by Jersey Boys, Million Dollar Quartet, and Memphis). Mixing the styles of stadium lighting and theatre lighting, Binkley created the perfect atmosphere for Lombardi. His design was exceptional, intricate, and just plain beautiful.
Bringing together theatre lovers and football fans that have never before seen a theatre, Lombardi is a new Broadway must see! “We are never finished.” Hopefully, Lombardi’s words ring true and this great new play lasts on Broadway for a long, long time.
Review By: James Russo & Ryan Oliveti