Director Thomas Kail (a Tony Award nominee for In the Heights) uses shafts of light, video projections (still shots, sports footage, animation) and the entire breadth of the venue's in-the-round stage to tell the tale of the passionate Brooklynite who led the Green Bay Packers to Super Bowl victory more than once.
In a gruff but lovable tone, Dan Lauria (TV's "The Wonder Years") plays the late coach — and is something of a lookalike, with gap tooth and fireplug stance. Judith Light (TV's "Who's the Boss" and "Ugly Betty," Off-Broadway's Wit) plays his understanding, supportive and conflicted wife, who deeply misses the East Coast. Her feelings for home are aroused when a young (fictional) reporter, played by Keith Nobbs (Off-Broadway's Stupid Kids, Four, Fuddy Meers), comes to stay with the Lombardis for a week, to write a profile for Look magazine.
Nobbs' Michael McCormick is the audience's way into Lombard's world, which is populated by three representative football players: Jim Taylor (played by Chris Sullivan), Paul Hornung (played by Bill Dawes) and Dave Robinson (played by Robert Christopher Riley). The understudies are Jeff Still, Henny Russell, Brad Schmidt and Javon Johnson.
Lombardi is drawn from the best-selling biography "When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi" by David Maraniss. The play is set over a week in 1965 — five years before Lombardi's death from colon cancer at age 57. The play shifts back and forth in time.
Producers Fran Kirmser, Tony Ponturo and Friends of Lombardi have the National Football League as a special producing partner, marking the organization's first brush on Broadway. The upper and lower lobbies are decked out to look like a football museum, with murals, photos and Lombardi memorabilia. "I played ball on Long Island — Lindenhurst," Lauria told Playbill.com. "It was all Catholics, all Irish or Italian, and Coach Lombardi was with the Giants then. So we knew him before he went to Green Bay, and of course, after he became the legend that he is, I read all the books. I even read David's book the second it came out, so now [research-wise] it's more about re-reading them. But we actually learned a little bit more from [meeting] the actual players… Half the stories we can't tell you."
Lauria doesn't narrate the 90-minute play as Lombardi, but he does address the audience. He said, "I refer to the audience as if they're in a locker room, so my locker-room speeches are as if the audience was the players. But Keith Nobbs plays a young reporter, and he talks directly to the audience and fills in the history of Lombardi. I think you'll learn a lot about the working of the man, but let's face it, you could do a 90-minute play just on Lombardi's effect on the black players and what he did for them. You could do 90 minutes on how the obsession of winning affected his family. You could do 90 minutes on his negotiation with the New Players' Association, the unions…."
Nobbs told Playbill.com that his character is "an amalgamation, basically, of W.C. Heinz, who's a sportswriter of the day; David Maraniss, who wrote the book 'When Pride Still Mattered,' which the play is based on; and then there are echoes of Vincent, Jr., Vince's son, whom he kind of had this difficult relationship with. You can imagine having Vince Lombardi as a father. …So we kind of have this surrogate father-son relationship where we trigger each other and push each other outside our comfort zones a little bit."
The creative team includes David Korins (set), Paul Tazewell (costumes), Howell Binkley (lighting), Acme Sound Partners (sound), Zach Borovay (projections), Charles LaPointe (hair), Stephen Gabis (dialect coach) and Tripp Phillips (production stage manager).
Playwright Simonson is an ensemble member of the renowned Steppenwolf Theatre Company, a post he maintains while working as a writer and director for film, television, theatre and opera. Most recently he completed a documentary for HBO called "Studs Terkel: Listening to America." His documentary "A Note of Triumph: The Golden Age of Norman Corwin" won the 2006 Oscar for Documentary Short. He was also nominated for an Oscar for his documentary "On Tiptoe: Gentle Steps to Freedom" in 2001. Other films include "Hamlet" (co-directed with Campbell Scott) for Hallmark Entertainment, and an independent feature, "Topa Topa Bluffs." His directing and writing credits in theatre include work at Steppenwolf Theatre, The Huntington Theatre, Milwaukee Rep, Kansas City Rep, The Kennedy Center, Pasadena Playhouse, Seattle Rep, Milwaukee Rep, Arizona theatre, San Jose Rep and Court Theatre in Chicago. His work at Steppenwolf includes premieres of his plays Carter's Way, Honest and Fake; and Nomathemba (co-written with Ntozake Shange and Joseph Shabalala), and The Song of Jacob Zulu, which ran on Broadway, and received six Tony nominations including Best Director. He wrote an earlier play about Lombardi that played Madison Rep in Wisconsin.
His several plays include published works Bang the Drum Slowly and Work Song (co-written with Jeffrey Hatcher) and the adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five.
Tickets can be purchased online at www.telecharge.com, by phone at (212) 239-6200, or in person at the box office (50th Street, west of Broadway). Visit www.lombardibroadway.com.
Dan Lauria and Judith Light talk about the man, the myth and the reality of Broadway's pro-ball protagonist: