'Lombardi' playwright, Eric Simonson, hoping Packers' win gives ticket sales a kick
Dan Lauria, center, portrays Vince Lombardi in the Broadway play "Lombardi." Others in the cast, from left, are Bill Dawes, Chris Sullivan, Robert Christopher Riley, Judith Light and Keith Nobbin.
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For winning the Super Bowl, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers got to raise the Vince Lombardi Trophy and a trip to Disney World.
For starring in "Lombardi" on Broadway, Dan Lauria got to appear in-character on "Late Night With David Letterman," adding coaching witticisms to the Top 10 countdown.
The day before the big game, at a meeting of theater critics and actors in New York at Sardi's restaurant, Mr. Lauria had spotted a Pittsburgher with a Terrible Towel.
"No way," he declared. "If the Packers win, I eat free for a year!"
No one rooted harder for the Packers than Wisconsin native Eric Simonson, writer of "Lombardi," who also is working on a City Theatre commission with Jeffrey Hatcher, "Louder, Faster," that will debut in May.
On Super Bowl Sunday, with two minutes to go and the ball in Ben Roethlisberger's hands, Mr. Simonson was alone in a hotel room in Denver, where he is directing "Rusalka" for Opera Colorado.
"The opera company had a Super Bowl party, but I couldn't bring myself to attend. I get a little crazy watching football games, especially the big ones, and my craziness tends to put a damper on others' enjoyment. So I watched the Super Bowl by myself in my hotel room, and I had a great time pacing and yelling and screaming at the top of my lungs.
"The second half was a nail-biter, of course. That's when I did most of my yelling. I was only consoled by the fact that if the Packers had lost, it would have been at the hands of a great team."
Mr. Simonson based his play on the best-selling biography "When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi," by David Maraniss. "Lombardi" has been on Broadway since Oct. 21. Judith Light co-stars as Marie, the coach's devoted wife. Michael McCormick is the reporter whose weeklong interview frames the play and Bill Dawes portrays Green Bay star Paul Hornung. Javon Johnson -- familiar to Pittsburgh theater audiences most recently for his portrayal of Othello at PICT -- understudies Robert Christopher Riley as Packers linebacker and Penn State alum Dave Robinson. What might the Packers' championship mean for the play? "Well, I hope it sells more tickets," Mr. Simonson wrote in an e-mail. For the week that ended with the Super Bowl, "Lombardi" was at about 64 percent of the approximately 625-seat capacity at Circle in the Square Theatre on Broadway and W. 50th Street.
"The whole Vince Lombardi tradition has been really played out this year, and I can't think of a better scenario for the play," he said. "But we'll see. We're optimistic."
Mr. Simonson answered a few questions about "the Lombardi mystique" -- on the field and on Broadway.
Was knowing about Vince Lombardi, the man and the myth, a mandatory part of growing up in Wisconsin?
Lombardi wasn't so much taught as he was in the ether. I was only 8 by the time he quit coaching in Green Bay, and I hardly remember watching any Packer games, but I was always aware of the Lombardi mystique, his sayings and his speeches.
When you've attended the play, have you seen Green Bay fans in evidence?
Practically every show has at least one or two people wearing Packers jerseys, and sometimes people go a little further. At one performance, a man sat in the front row and reverentially cradled a Packer helmet. He didn't do anything with the helmet. He just sat there and watched the play, quietly showing off his Packer spirit.
I went to the show the day before the Jets-Patriots playoff game and there were a few Jets jerseys. Just before the curtain, one of the Jets fans stood up and led the other Jets fans in a cheer, to which one man in a Packers jersey muttered, "See you in Dallas." ... It's not your usual theater crowd.
How did having the play on Broadway affect how you rooted for the team during the playoffs this year?
This year was special. David Maraniss liked to remind me that when he wrote his biography in 1996, the Packers won the Super Bowl. ... He felt the Packers might do the same this year, the year of the play. And they did. Weird.
Do you know if there was any acknowledgement, from the stage or audience, on Tuesday, the first performance after the Super Bowl?
I read in the Tuesday performance report that the audience was unusually vocal at Vince Lombardi's first appearance. Hey, why not? I guess he's working overtime.
First Published February 12, 2011 12:00 am