PHOTO CALL: Magic/Bird, With Kevin Daniels and Tug Coker, on Broadway
By Matthew Blank
Magic/Bird, Eric Simonson's drama about the rivalry and friendship of basketball heroes Earvin "Magic" Johnson and Larry Bird, began previews at Broadway's Longacre Theatre March 21 toward an opening night of April 11. Relative newcomers Tug Coker and Kevin Daniels play household names Bird and Johnson.
The complete cast under the direction of Tony Award nominee Thomas Kail (In the Heights, Simonson's Lombardi) includes Daniels as Los Angeles Lakers star Magic Johnson and Coker as Boston Celtics star Larry Bird, plus Deirdre O'Connell, Peter Scolari, Rob Ray Manning, Jr. and Francois Battiste, playing multiple roles.
Fran Kirmser and Tony Ponturo, producers of the football-centered Lombardi on Broadway, are behind Magic/Bird, which also has the participation of the National Basketball Association (and permission of Bird and Johnson).
Their creative team is David Korins (set), Howell Binkley (lighting), Paul Tazwell (costumes), Nevin Steinberg (sound) and Jeff Sugg (projections), "who will weave historic NBA film footage throughout the play," according to the producers.
O'Connell plays Georgia Bird/Shelly/Patricia Moore, Scolari plays Red Auerbach/Jerry Buss/Pat Riley, Manning Jr. plays Michael Cooper/Henry Alvarado/Frank, and Battiste plays Jon Lennox/Ron Baxter/Willy.
Here's how the producers bill Magic/Bird: "At the heart of one of the fiercest rivalries in sports history, two of the greatest basketball players of all-time battled for three championships, bragging rights, and the future of their sport in the 1980s. Johnson and Bird electrified the nation on the court, reinvigorated the NBA, and turned their rivalry into one of the greatest and most famous friendships in professional sports."
With a name to inspire sports fans, Coker, a 34-year-old, 6-feet-5-inch former NCAA college basketball player, has film and TV credits guesting on "Torchwood," "Hot in Cleveland," "CSI: Miami," "Community" and more, and appeared in A Midsummer Night's Dream at American Repertory Theatre in Boston. He is (naturally) a devoted Boston Celtics fan.
Daniels grew up in Houston and Irving, TX, and played high school basketball before becoming an actor. "I was 6-foot-5, I was black and I lived in Texas," he told Playbill.com, with a laugh. "It's in my blood."
Yes, he's a fan of the Los Angeles Lakers — Magic's old team.
Since landing the job, Daniels scoured "every bit of youtube footage" of Johnson, his games and his interviews, the actor said. Daniels is impressed with Johnson. "No matter what interview, he's always that same guy — relaxed and laid back, with a confidence," the actor said.
Kirmser and Ponturo's producing partners are Scott McGraw, John Mara, Jr. and Tamara Tunie. For more about the project, visit www.magicbirdbroadway.com.
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