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Review Roundup: LOMBARDI

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Lombardi

LOMBARDI, a new American play from Academy Award-winning playwright Eric Simonson, is based on the best-selling Vince Lombardi biography "When Pride Still Mattered", by Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Maraniss.

LOMBARDI, starring Dan Lauria as the legendary Hall of Fame football coach Vince Lombardi and Judith Light as his wife Marie, opened Thursday October 21 at the Circle in the Square Theatre, (50th, west of Broadway).

Charles Isherwood, The New York Times: The director, Thomas Kail ("In the Heights"), manages traffic effectively, but the play's scattered structure and lack of a strong focus on its central character deprive it of forward momentum. Mr. Lauria, who bears a passable resemblance to Lombardi, supplies jolts of energy when he can, lacing the pep talks with gusto or stalking the living room with broody irritability, Pepto-Bismol in hand, when problems on the field arise. (The in-the-round set, by David Korins, subtly suggests the shape of a football stadium.) What no actor could provide is the compelling emotional or psychological substance that's absent from the writing.

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press: What we get is the off-field world of Vince and Marie Lombardi - the home, the practice sessions, team talks and a few flashbacks. There's nothing here revelatory to fans of Lombardi. But seeing the legend walking and talking - as opposed to grainy film - makes it all more visceral.

Terry Teachout, The Wall Street Journal: Mr. Lauria, whom TV viewers will remember from "The Wonder Years," knows a dream part when he sees one, and makes the most of this one. He plays Mr. Lombardi like a warmer but comparably tough version of George C. Scott's Patton, and lurking beneath the buzzsaw bluster of his win-or-else tirades is a stealthy note of Pattonesque desperation, the fear that he'll blow his last chance to make it as a head coach. Indeed, I was startled by the cinder-dark passion with which Mr. Lauria assures Keith Nobbs, the geeky reporter-interlocutor who narrates "Lombardi," that he'd "just as soon die" as watch the Packers slip back into second place. I believed it, and so will you.

Elysa Gardner, USA Today: Lombardi liked to say that while perfection isn't attainable, in chasing it we can catch excellence. Lombardi may aspire to and achieve something less, but there are worse ways to spend 95 minutes.

Frank Scheck, Hollywood Reporter: Finally, there's a Broadway show to which husbands can drag their wives rather than the other way around. But though the new biodrama about famed football coach Vince Lombardi is bound to attract sports fans who otherwise would not venture near a theater, theatergoers not inherently interested in the subject are going to be a much tougher sell. Heavy on sports atmosphere but light on content, "Lombardi" doesn't make it to the goal line.

Marilyn Stasio, Variety: Can "Lombardi" be the show to overcome Broadway's ingrained disdain for sports-themed plays? That depends on audience expectations of Eric Simonson's biodrama (based on a book by David Maraniss) about Hall of Fame football coach Vince Lombardi. Fans content just to spend a few hours in the company of this great guy should be mesmerized by Dan Lauria's spot-on impersonation of the famously hot-tempered Lombardi. More sports-minded auds, eager for insights on how this legendary coach famously guided the Green Bay Packers to five Super Bowl championships, might want to know why the show spends so little time on the gridiron. Lauria, the lovably grumpy sitcom dad on "The Wonder Years," brings that endearing quality to his scrappy portrait of Lombardi as the surrogate father who bullied, scolded, cheered and dragged the Packers out of the NFL cellar and on to glory. Working off his own bulldog physique and gap-toothed grin, Lauria achieves an eerie physical resemblance to Lombardi, who used his whole body to speak his mind.

Michael Sommers, NJ Newsroom: Swigging Pepto-Bismol, a handsomely grizzled Lauria looks very much like the squat, paunchy Lombardi and easily assumes the coach's thundering ways. Often very funny, yet poignant, Judith Light creates a wry, poker-faced Marie whose wisdom shines behind an alcoholic haze. Always a dynamic actor, Keith Nobbs lends McCormick a strong sense of urgency (plus a hard-edged Jersey accent that sure doesn't sound like Bergen County to my Oradell-bred ears). Easygoing Bill Dawes is very much a sporty golden boy as Paul Hornung, solidly backed by Chris Sullivan and Robert Christopher Riley respectively as teammates Jim Taylor and Dave Robinson.

John Simon, Bloomberg News: But a book is one thing and a play quite another. And theater in the round, where minimal scenery must come up from below the stage and sink back again in order not to block anyone's view, is another tough nut to crack. Especially if there are only three football players along with the journalist and Marie, the coach's stoical wife, to lend support to the protagonist. There are some slide projections, to be sure, but much -- perhaps too much -- is left to the imagination.

Peter Schrager, Fox Sports: The acting is brilliant, the story's compelling and there are genuine moments of triumph, tension and despair. Dan Lauria, best known for his work as Kevin Arnold's father on "The Wonder Years", is a spitting image of Lombardi, while actress Judith Light plays his wife, Marie. Paul Hornung, Jim Taylor and Dave Robinson are all central figures, as well.

Scott Brown, NY Magazine:  Lauria does little to scrape off the bronze and find the man inside. And why should he? Neither Simonson's script nor director Thomas Kail seems to be asking him to. Lauria's merely called upon to roar and rant and aphorize, and occasionally double over in pain, a nod to the colon cancer brewing in his gut. (Clutching a protuberant belly and vowing never to let some doctor put a scope "up there": It's the male-melodrama equivalent of the tragic cough into the blood-speckled hankie.) Occasionally, Lauria prowls the outer boundaries of the man's son-of-immigrants insecurities, but there's precious little time for detail work between barking fits, and these declamations are clearly where he's put the bulk of his preparation.

Joe Dziemianowicz, NY Daily News: Though many scenes are static, director Thomas Kail ("In the Heights") scores points with his audience-friendly staging for this in-the-round theater. The production's touchdown comes when Lombardi drills the Pack on the power sweep, the play that helped make them unbeatable. As X's and O's rush across the bare stage and give way to images of players in green and gold, the play at last comes to life. It's the sort of winning moment Lombardi would expect - and that this show needs more of.

Roma Torre, NY1: Vince Lombardi was bigger than life on and off the football field, a sports icon whose winning record and volatile character make him a natural for dramatic exploration. No doubt writer Eric Simonson saw the potential basing his play on a Lombardi biography by David Maraniss. And while he's blessed with a solid team, "Lombardi" the play isn't entirely a winner.

Peter Marks, The Washington Post: This may not be the game most ticket buyers to "Lombardi" pay to see; the play allows them merely to bask in a sports hero's glow. If that's all you require from the experience, "Lombardi" may be sufficient. For others, however, the predicaments of the big man in the spotlight aren't as involving as the smaller one who's clutching the notebook.

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press: Dan Lauria (TV's "The Wonder Years") nicely plays the ultra-focused, extremely voluble coach opposite a remarkable Judith Light (TV's "Who's the Boss") as his wife Marie. The play, based on a David Maraniss' biography, isn't terribly deep or meaningful - it's theater for Joe Six-Pack. But it is entertaining and there's a place for it in the Broadway huddle.

Frank Scheck, Hollywood Reporter: But though the new biodrama about famed football coach Vince Lombardi is bound to attract sports fans who otherwise would not venture near a theater, theatergoers not inherently interested in the subject are going to be a much tougher sell. Heavy on sports atmosphere but light on content, "Lombardi" doesn't make it to the goal line.

Mike Vaccaro, NY Post Sports: Even if you never cared about Lombardi, you'll enjoy "Lombardi." And that really is everything.

Elisabeth Vincentelli, NY Post: Lombardi was idolized by players and fans for his tough-love approach. His reputation lives on, bolstered by his real accomplishments on the field and maybe even more by his inspirational speeches - he's basically Elizabeth Gilbert for guys. It would have been good to spice up the play with some plays.

 

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