This is one of those sneaky shows whose title is misleading. This is not a play about Vince Lombardi. As a matter of fact it is not really a play in the strictest sense of the word. It is a love letter. The story is about the kid, a stringer for Look Magazine, which some of us remember, who arrives in Green Bay to do an article on Lombardi and his team. It is the kid, Michael McCormick (Keith Nobbs) whose life is changed. Lombardi? He was already out of the oven. He was and remains an icon. Icons don’t change. They make other people change.
So those of you looking for a play about Lombardi will not find it here. What you will find, however, is a nifty piece of theatre due in large part to the director who has managed to pull out the magic nuggets as if he had been dunking for apples.
This is one time that the pesky theatre-in-the round really works. From the opening gambit where Lombardi (Dan Lauria) looks around at us all and says “Gentlemen. This is a football.” We understand that there is no messing around with this guy. But the story would be nothing without the frame that keeps it in place. Lombardi’s wife Marie (Judith Light) is the dead center of that universe. Portrayed with startling simplicity, this woman shines like polished silver. Light not only plays a character who was the lynch-pin for the Lombardi organization, she is exactly that in this play. Against her, Lauria can afford the whimsy as well as the toughness, the vulnerability as well as the obsession with his game. Because of Light’s performance, Lauria delivers Lombardi as a three-dimensional person.
The three players that we get to meet are more like a Greek Chorus. At the curtain call I was actually surprised that there were only three, so broadly do they reach in this tale. Each is iconic: Dave Robinson (Robert Christopher Riley) was a black player who was instrumental in forming a player’s union; Paul Hornung (Bill Dawes) was the heartthrob of Greenbay (As my theatre guest made clear to me). Jim Taylor was one of the first players to have an agent. And believe me when I tell you that I learned all of this from the play, because I know bupkus about football. I don’t even LIKE football. It’s just the gladiators all over again as far as I can tell.
But in Lombardi these factoids, along with the sideline commentary by Marie and Michael, all weave together like a net. And it is this net that shores up the man Lombardi. Perhaps this is what happened in life as well. Icons don’t get to be icons without support. This is a cleverly crafted piece of theatre. It skates around the edges of drama, through the arms of history and into the spotlight. The names were not changed to protect the innocent. On the contrary, Simonson and I assume Kail focused much like Lombardi would have. They crafted a “play” and ran with it.
For those of you who know football, this is a walk with Titans. For those of you who don’t, this is a backstage pass to an imperfect life dominated by a passion that touched way more than the gridiron.
"This workmanlike drama often keeps him offstage for long stretches, almost relegating Lombardi to a supporting role in his own story."
Charles Isherwood for New York Times
"'Lombardi' emerges as a second-string player in his own bio."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"The show looks back in wonder at the famed Green Bay Packers coach, but curiously lacks momentum."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
"Never quite achieves the greatness of the coach’s briefly invincible team. "
John Simon for Bloomberg
"May bring a whole new audience of sports fans to Broadway, but theater fans will recognize it as an incomplete pass."
David Sheward for Back Stage
"Essentially a character portrait; there's no drama, even the contrived kind."
Robert Feldberg for The Record
"As entertainment, 'Lombardi' certainly scores points even if it fumbles somewhat on the execution."
Roma Torre for NY1
"It's a solid experience for anyone."
Jerry Milani for Newsroom Jersey
"Although we are dutifully fed plenty of information about Lombardi’s life and career, Simonson has failed to construct interesting drama out of it."
Frank Scheck for The Hollywood Reporter
"There really isn't much action."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety