Dan Lauria as Lombardi. Photo by Joan Marcus.
BOTTOM LINE: Lombardi is an accessible and uniquely American play about football, integrity, and striving for one's personal best.
Over a decade in development, Eric Simonson’s Lombardi, based on a book by David Maraniss, finally brings the story of the famed football coach to the Broadway stage. The show uses the familiar conceit of a reporter who draws out a person’s story, but with a new take. In Lombardi, a new Look magazine reporter comes to Green Bay, Wisconsin to spend a week with Vince Lombardi and find out who he is and what makes him a winner. But it’s not so simple: the week and the characters are infused with stress and passion, and the reporter comes away with both a story about the coach and a new view of his own life.
Lombardi is a touching play, but it’s not a play about football. Well, it's not only a play about football. It’s a play about rich, complex characters — it's about their relationships, their struggles, and their interactions. Marie Lombardi was a city girl who followed the man she loved to the middle of nowhere. Vincent Lombardi was raised by a perfectionist mother in a Jesuit routine, and now has no room for substandard performance in himself or others. Reporter Michael McCormick broke his dad’s heart to become a writer, and now his dad is gone and McCormick's work is everything to him. A peppering of football players with different goals and demons rounds out the cast.
The versatile Circle in the Square space, famously the only Broadway theatre capable of in-the-round staging, is transformed into an oval space encircled by lights that is reminiscent of a football field. From this simple space, furniture and props rise from the floor when needed, but disappear when not required. Otherwise the space of scenes is created with lights, sound, and projections, all of which draw from a game day/stadium theme. There is also a musical motif that underscores pivotal emotional moments, but it arrives late in the show, is unprecedented, and pushes the boundary of sentimentality.
In fact, the script in general risks heavy-handed sentimentality in moments of emotion, and even more so when great incidents of football history are recreated or retold. The show ends in an epilogue that might choke you with its bathos, but many may find this strategy effective. It choked me until it choked me UP. And I love a good theatre cry. And that’s the center of this heartfelt show: sometimes it’s too much — the projections, the gushing, and the music, but it works.
This is a uniquely American play, focusing on values of integrity and commitment to personal ideals. It’s about personal excellence. The themes and tones are uncommon in New York’s often overly-sophisticated theatre scene. Lombardi doesn’t strive for sophistication — it’s a show targeted to "regular" people. Is your dad in town? Take him to Lombardi. Have a friend who prefers movies to plays? Lombardi is a good transition piece for him or her. It’s an American play about an American hero for American people. Savvy theatre-goers might find it a little regional theatre, but it’s still worth the ticket.
(Lombardi plays at Circle in the Square Theatre, 235 W. 50th Street. Performances are Tuesdays at 7pm, Wednesdays at 2pm and 8pm, Thursdays at 8pm, Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2pm and 8pm, and Sundays at 3pm. Note that the performance schedule changes around Thanksgiving and the end of year holiday season. Tickets are $115 - $125 and can be purchased through telecharge.com or by calling 212.239.6200. $27 student rush and $37 rush tickets are available on the day of the performance at the box office, limit 1 per person. For more information visit www.lombardibroadway.com.)