Most people still dress up to some extent for a Broadway play. Not at “Lombardi.”
There are more sports jerseys in the audience than we’ve seen in over 200 plays combined.
It makes sense, though. “Lombardi” is about the legendary coach Vince Lombardi, who brought the Green Bay Packers to glory during the 1960s. Football fans are not always the same fans who fill the seats for musicals and plays.
Yet, guys in football jerseys had a great time as TV legends from the ’80s and ’90s dominate the play.
Dan Lauria (“The Wonder Years”) and Judith Light (“Who’s The Boss?”) are wonderful as the hard-charging Lombardi and his wisecracking wife, Marie.
The small stage at Circle in the Square is used well, with the sets from the Lombardis’ 1960s living room rising from below. The stage is also used as a football field, with clever use of hanging projections and lights.
The men playing the Packers are great, and Keith Nobbs as Michael McCormick — whose story this really is — is very good. But that’s the problem — the story is McCormick’s. And the natural question is: Who is he?
McCormick is a journalist. As a journalist, I’m predisposed to root for him. The audience, for the most part, could not care less. And why should they?
The conceit of this play is that we should care about how McCormick gets and tells Lombardi’s story. For those of us who only know that Lombardi was some kind of motivational super force, the play definitely does its job of explaining the coach well, putting him in context and showing what a shoot-from-the-hip kind of a guy he was.
He had coached for years, but never had a winning team. He was working at a bank when he got the call to come to Green Bay.
This part of the country was so foreign to Marie, a woman who belonged in and loved New York, that she had to look up Green Bay in the atlas.
As Marie first tells the audience, reflecting on her decision to become Mrs. Lombardi, “I knew about his temper. I said, ‘What the hell? He’s Catholic and it will be nice.'”
The sparse living room, where Marie is rarely without a drink, is done perfectly, as is Marie. From her charm bracelet, tasteful pumps, pearls and dresses that require crinolines, Marie is spot-on. And Light looks wonderful. She is supremely deadpan.
Lauria, who in his younger days had actually coached football in between acting jobs, is also perfect.
He feels righteously angry, and has a gravitas found in someone who plays by the rules and fights hard and clean. Lombardi is tough, and frankly, Lombardi is right. How do you argue against trying beyond endurance, treating your teammates fairly and committing fully to the game?
His rules are as appropriate for ballet as they are for football. None of this, though, makes for great drama.
Michael, the journalist at the heart of this play, is sent to write a magazine piece and back in those glorious days when writers hung out with their subjects for days. His last assignment was covering donkeys playing basketball in Schenectady, N.Y. This is clearly a major improvement.
Lombardi knew Michael’s dad, also a journalist, so Michael is invited to stay with the Lombardis.
What Michael does not know until much later is that the publicist for the team and Michael’s editor are in collusion, and that Lombardi gets to sign off on any article. Michael’s journalistic integrity can’t abide by that, and it shouldn’t.
In journalism circles, this subject could be hotly debated. In theater, though, it’s not enough to sustain a play.