(Review by Tulis McCall)
There are a lot of good elements to this production. For one thing, you should hang out in front of the theatre and see the fathers and sons standing in front of the photos of Magic and Bird. “Those are the real ones,” the fathers say, gazing not only at the picture but at their own past. The sons are reverent because the fathers are. Inside you should hope that you sit near one of these duos or trios and listen again as the fathers point out the sports casters and the ball players that are projected onto the scrim and the backdrop. Like Lombardi, also directed so beautifully by Thomas Kail – this is not so much a play as it is a tale, a myth come to life.
And here Kail has worked his magic once again, crafting this text into all it can be. My companion, himself not a big basketball person, found the story of this relationship charming and very, very moving.
I agree it is a moving story. It is not a moving play, however, because there is no plot. There is the STORY, but no opposing forces. The actual story is supposed to be about two men obsessed with one another who end up liking each other. Well, of course they did. These are two likeable people – driven, but likeable. Honest. Honorable. Blah blah blah. So it would only be a matter of time and getting them together – for that sneaker commercial shot at Bird’s farm in French Lick for example – before they would connect. These two were peers. The air is rarefied in relationships like these.
The supporting cast members are the ones with the stories, and perhaps because they are treated with less reverence, the author allows them the luxury of being imperfect. François Batiste, Robert Manning, Jr., Deidre O’Connell, and Peter Scolari each play several different characters, and each character is a part into which these actors can sink their teeth. A regular at a bar in Boston shrieks at a fellow patron “How can you not like the Celtics if you’re from Boston? That’s practically un-American!!” Bird’s mother, Georgia, shows a preference for Magic at a home lunch. Reporters commiserate over filing reports. Inside execs confer about the mechanics of making basketball work. These are the places where the sausage is made.
Watching sausage made may suck in real life – but it is the center of all drama.
For this Magic and Bird, however, there is no sausage making provided by Mr. Simonson. These characters are predictable and a bit on the dull side. In addition, neither actor has that extra something that would guide them over the pitfalls of this text. Kevin Daniels as Magic is enthusiastic but lacks credibility in the drive and gravitas department. The announcement of his forced retirement from basketball does not alter him in the slightest. It is a blip. Tug Coker is so straight-faced as Bird that the sparkle of charisma –shy as Bird is – never shines through. Two syllable words appear to be a stretch for him. (And is there no one in New York that could have given him better wigs?) In short, we just don’t believe these two men are who they say they are.
The story of Magic and Bird is an iconic tale of our time. What it is not – or not as written by Eric Simonson - is a plot whereon you can hang your hat. When there is no plot, a director can only rely on her or his own skill and the actors that have to go out for that l-o-n-g- pass. Thomas Kail does everything he can to achieve lift-off, and the supporting cast pulls every ounce of juice out of the text that they can. But in the end, the videos of Magic and Bird that play in the background are more compelling than anything that happens in front of them.
"An efficiently informative but uninspired trek through the lives of two towering (forgive the pun) figures in sports history."
Charles Isherwood for NY Times
"Doesn’t technically foul out, but it’s not exactly a winner either."
Joe Dziemianowicz for NY Daily News
"As far as bioplays go, this one’s got bounce."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
"Director Thomas Kail tries to re-create the adrenaline rush of a basketball game onstage, his trite devices, coupled with Eric Simonson’s flat script, can’t deliver... ."
Suzy Evans for Back Stage
"The play, ..., is aimed at sports fans, and it has all the depth, nuance and drama you'd find on the back of a bubble-gum card."
Robert Feldberg for The Record
"I know zip about basketball but -- since I know everything about the theater -- I am here to tell you that “Magic/Bird” sure looks like a winner on Broadway."
Michael Sommers for Newsroom Jersey
"A mildly engaging drama."
David Rooney for The Hollywood Reporter
"Basketball fans are the obvious target aud, but their dates should have a good time, too.
Marilyn Stasio for Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...