Eric Simonson's new biographical play Lombardi starts previews today on Broadway with a scheduled October 21st opening, and I'm pretty excited about it. This is not because I am much of a fan or even very familiar with the legendary coach. I'm really not even much of a football fan at all. I'm familiar with some of Vince Lombardi's more famous quotes like:
"Winning is not a sometime thing. It is an all-time thing. You don't do things right once in a while . . . you do them right all the time."
I know he was a tempestuous but inspiring man and that his name is spoken with a certain reverence where sports fans congregate.
No, I am excited about this play (starring the amazing Dan Lauria and the phenomenal Judith Light) because it is opening up new possibilities for theatre. A few years ago, I was visiting my father and he was watching a game on some sports cable network. This was not particularly unusual except for the fact that it was a game from the 1970's. My father, who rarely wanted to sit through an entire movie was transfixed in the drama of a game for which he already knew the outcome. I sat down and watched it with him. I realized that it wasn't all that different from watching a great old movie - one of my favorite pastimes and something in which I would have some difficulty in getting my father to join.
I would be hard-pressed to get my father to go out and see a live theatre production. He only saw a handful of the ones in which I was a performer and none that I directed. However, I'll bet my dad would go see this show.
In a time when Broadway producers are essentially just moving popular movies to the stage in the hope of finding a new audience, and regional theatre producers are staging chestnut after chestnut in order to draw the increasingly distractable regular theatre audiences in their area, a simply staged production about an infamous and beloved football coach might just grab an audience full of armchair quarterbacks and take them someplace they've never been: inside of a live theatre.
Is this commercial pandering? I don't think so, and if it is, it's certainly on a far lesser scale than, say, turning Shrek or Spider-Man into a musical, wouldn't you say?
Theatre is one of those things that has a tendency to be pretty insulated. It seems like you're either a theatre person or you're not, and let's face it: most of the people in the world these days are not. Can that be changed? Absolutely.
Let's go back to my father as an example. My dad has a college degree, but he doesn't really read much. You won't get my dad to read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. However, he'd read a book about Tom Landry (Hall of Fame former coach of the Dallas Cowboys). I know he would - even being a dyed-in-the-wool Bronco fan. He'd also see a movie about him, and I'd be willing to bet he'd see a live stage play about him, too.
When my younger brother was in Junior High School, he didn't like to read either. However, he had just about every book ever written about Led Zeppelin and could tell you names, dates, sales numbers, and other minutiae about the band just off the top of his head. I'll bet that if someone wrote a play about how Robert Plant and Jimmy Page first met, my brother - now in his thirties and definitely not a frequenter of live theatre - would find his way to a seat.
Audiences for live theatre are out there, we just have to find the stories to draw them in - and it is the stories, ultimately. It's not the mechanized stages or explosions. Those things can create buzz, sure, but buzz doesn't do much if they weren't already interested in the story.
I hope that Lombardi proves to be a first-time theatre experience for a lot of new audience members, and - with performers like Dan Lauria and Judith Light on stage - it might also be enough to open their eyes to seeing other live shows.
Here's a video interview with Dan Lauria and Judith Light from Playbill.com: