By Ann Liguori
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If you have not seen the Broadway play ‘Lombardi,’ put it on your list! The show will appeal to both diehard football fans and those who may not have any sports interest but enjoy excellent theatre. You’ll be treated to powerful performances from both Dan Lauria, who physically and mentally seems to transform into Vince Lombardi, and Judith Light, who shines as Marie Lombardi and so beautifully portrays what it is like to be married to a man so dedicated and committed to his team and obsessed with winning.
Lauria is best known as the Dad on the ABC series “The Wonder Years,” and he has played over 70 roles on television. His film credits include The Spirit, Independence Day and both Stakeout films. He has performed, written or directed over 50 Equity theater productions. But as soon as he walks out on stage, you would think he was born to play the role of Vince Lombardi. And with closer inspection of his resume, I found out that Lauria attended Southern Connecticut State University on a football scholarship and like Lombardi, was a high school football coach!
Day-time television fans know Judith Light from her years on the soap opera ‘One Life to Live’ and then prime-time on ‘Who’s the Boss?’ and in “The Ryan White Story” and “A Husband, A Wife and A Lover.” In Lombardi, she has more opportunity to show off her versatility as an actress. You’ll also enjoy performances from Keith Nobbs who plays reporter Michael McCormick and Bill Dawes as Paul Hornung. And congratulations to public relations wiz Joe Favorito, Lombardi’s associate producer.
Last weekend, I interviewed David Maraniss, whose biography “When Pride Still Mattered – A Life of Vince Lombardi,” inspired the Broadway show. Eric Simonson wrote the screenplay. Maraniss won the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting, shared in the Washington Post’s 2008 Pulitzer for coverage of the Virginia Tech tragedy and edited a series on Walter Reed that won the 2008 Pulitzer Gold Medal. The guy obviously has talent.
Maraniss shared some of the feedback he has heard from the audience:
“Somebody came up to me after a show and said they were best friends of Joe Paterno and his wife Sue and said the play captured their relationship as well –the same obsession that a coach has and with what a wife has to deal with…That drive leads to great things and also leads to problems.”
Maraniss told another story about Susan Lombardi, the daughter, coming to opening night. “After the play, she walked up to Judy Light at the after-party and told Judy ’you are my mother.’ There’s no higher complement than that.”
“Frank Gifford (who played under Lombardi when Lombardi was an assistant coach for the NY Giants) and Jerry Kramer (legendary offensive lineman for the Packers) welled up when they saw Dan Lauria afterwards and they had to turn away because Dan so powerfully brought back their emotions about their coach.”
On why David says he can see the play over and over and it doesn’t get stale: “Dan and Judith as the two lead characters like each other so much and are so richly together in the play that it has gotten deeper as the weeks go by and their relationship has gotten richer and more moving…it gets better the more you see it, because their dynamics are so powerful.”
You sports enthusiasts know that Coach Lombardi became Head Coach and General Manager of the Green Bay Packers in 1959. He took over a team that had earned the distinction of being the worst team in Packers history, having won one game and tied another in the 12-game season. After coaching the team to a winning season (7-5) his first year, Lombardi was named NFL Coach of the Year. He won five NFL Championships, including Super Bowls I and II during his nine years as coach of the Packers. In his honor, the NFL renamed ‘The Super Bowl Trophy’ the ‘Vince Lombardi Super Bowl Trophy’ in 1971, the year he was posthumously inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
And in addition to his legacy of winning, Coach Lombardi leaves behind quotes that have been passed along to a new generation of coaches and leaders. But one that he did not say, apparently, is: “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing…” You’ll have to refer to Maraniss’ book to find out how that quote did come about. What he did say, according to the official Lombardi web site, is: “Winning is not a sometime thing, it is an all the time thing.”
I like the following Lombardi quote: “People who work together will win, whether it be against complex football defenses, or the problems of modern society.” (Attention Congress!)
As Maraniss concludes, “In a short period of time, Coach Lombardi became an incandescent figure in American sports mythology.” The play ‘Lombardi’ performed at Circle in the Square, goes beyond the myth and his legend.
For more information on Ann Liguori or to purchase a DVD copy of one of her many interviews with legends in sports, visit www.annliguori.com.