Slam Dunk! Magic/Bird Shoots High, Opening on Broadway April 11

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11 Apr 2012

Kevin Daniels
Kevin Daniels
Photo by Joan Marcus

Magic/Bird, Eric Simonson's highly theatrical drama about the college-to-Olympics rivalry and friendship of basketball heroes Earvin "Magic" Johnson and Larry Bird, opens at Broadway's Longacre Theatre April 11. Fresh faces Tug Coker and Kevin Daniels play household-names Bird and Johnson, respectively.

Previews began March 21. Bird and Johnson are expected to attend opening night.

Director Thomas Kail — who directed Simonson's sports-centric Lombardi, produced by the same niche of theatrical producers, Fran Kirmser and Tony Ponturo — enlivens the production with quick-changes, NBA highlights of famous basketball games, archival news footage, projected animation and more.

The action takes place on a slightly raised platform serving as a kind of court around which cast members occasionally view the action, from the sidelines, under the heat of arena lights (the lighting designer is Howell Binkley; David Korins is the scenic designer). The staging hints at basketball moves, but the production does not seek to recreate overt sports action. Magic/Bird is foremost a history play populated by reporters, everyday fans, coaches, players and the title Hall of Famers.

The complete cast includes Daniels (making his principal Broadway debut) as Los Angeles Lakers star Magic Johnson and Coker (making his Broadway debut, in a blond wig) as Boston Celtics star Larry Bird, plus Deirdre O'Connell, Peter Scolari, Rob Ray Manning, Jr. and Francois Battiste, playing multiple roles. The company also includes Anne-Marie Cusson, Anthony Holiday and Gregory Jones.

Kirmser and Ponturo, producers of the football-centered Lombardi on Broadway, are lead producers. The show has the participation of the National Basketball Association (and permission of Bird and Johnson). The producers also include W. Scott McGraw, John Mara, Jr., Tamara Tunie/Jeffrey Donovan and Friends of Magic/Bird.

During previews of the show, it was not uncommon to see fathers and young sons, some wearing basketball jerseys, sitting together and taking in the drama that reflected their shared passion for sports.

Kail told in the days leading up to opening night, "There have been many kids wearing the jerseys of their favorite players today — from Lebron to Chris Paul — walking into our theatre with their parents, who have brought their children to share the story of Magic and Bird — the heroes from their own childhood. Musicals often serve as family entertainment, while plays are generally just for the parents. I'm excited to see that Magic/Bird is being shared by the whole family."


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