I’ve never been a football fan. Playing in my high school marching band required to attend all of my high school football games but I rarely paid attention to the plays. I’ve never tuned to watch an NFL game by choice on the weekends. Frankly, the sport bores me. But while I was watching Lombardi, the biopic play paying tribute to the legendary football coach Vince Lombardi, I surprised myself by actually paying attention to the game.
Based on the book When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi by David Maraniss, this production is a touching tribute to the man behind the success of the Green Bay Packers. While not a rousing musical or a gripping drama, Eric Simonson’s play is a thoroughly entertaining event, thanks in great part to the exceptional cast. The show introduces Michael McCormick, played by Keith Nobbs, sent by Look magazine to write a profile of Lombardi. Dan Lauria stars as the titular coach, depicting not only the fierce determination and drive that delivered so many victories but also the devotion to his players and the conflicting roles of coach and father figure that he played. Lauria, who bears a striking resemblance to Lombardi, is extremely impressive in this part and seems to be thoroughly enjoying himself, especially when he delivers the inspiring locker room speeches to his team (the show is well-suited to the Circle in the Square’s theater in the round, and the audience serves as the team).
Joining Lombardi as his wife Marie is Judith Light, who neatly steals the show with a dry, acerbic performance, delivering choice barbs at and about her husband with every other breath. Clad in Mad-Men era costumes and never without a martini in her hand, she reveals more about the man than he does about himself, often told through flashbacks. Light reveals the disappointment Marie feels and how much she misses the New York life the two left behind when he was recruited by the Packers. Wary of journalists after an unflattering article was printed in Esquire, Marie is protective of her husband but still determined to share her opinions. This woman has resigned herself to small-town life but refuses to play the martyr. Light gives such a humorous and intriguing performance that I found myself wishing the magazine article would be about her instead of her husband.
A members of Lombardi’s team also appear in the show, including Paul Hornung (Bill Dawes), Dave Robinson (Robert Christopher Riley), and Jim Taylor (Chris Sullivan), depicting how Lombardi pushes, but still loves, his team. Robinson informs the Michael that Lombardi refuses to stay in segregated hotels or eat in segregated restaurants, and Hornung pushes the coach frequently due to his partying was. Taylor presents the only real conflict of the show when he informs his coach he wants an agent to negotiate his contract. Lombardi explodes upon hearing this news, offering the first suspense of the evening.
But this show, which serves to inform and pay tribute to an historical figure, does not require a great deal of conflict. The majority of the story is set during the 1965 season, which results in the first of Lombardi’s three NFL championships in a row – a fact many members of the audience no doubt already know. I did not know this, but I was not surprised that was where the story ended. If Broadway can’t make a theater geek pay attention to the NFL, what can?