Lombardi

Desert Stages Theatre Presents Lombardi

By Richard Schultz

Photos by Heather Butcher

In a stroke of scheduling genius, Desert Stages Theatre presents Lombardi, a vibrant drama that takes a close look at Vince Lombardi, best known as the head coach of the Green Bay Packers, on the heels of the Valley’s Super Bowl fever.

Written by Eric Simonson, the play is based on David Maraniss’ book When Pride Still Mattered – A Life of Vince Lombardi. The original 2010 Broadway production featured Dan Lauria (better known as the father on “The Wonder Years”) as Lombardi and Judith Light (star of the long-running sitcom “Who’s the Boss?”), who received a Tony-Award nomination for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play.

The character of Vince Lombardi, convincingly portrayed by Timothy Pittman, fills the stage with a driven personality and an ego larger than any football field. Pittman scores a touchdown in bringing Lombardi’s grit and energy to every scene.

Under the direction of Mark-Alan C. Clemente, this production illustrates the legend’s charisma and determination while producing a winning team and positively impacting the lives of his players. Pittman clearly understands his character and knows that Lombardi’s personal intensity translated directly into the intensity on the field.

Lombardi has met his match in his wife Marie, played by Dyana Carroll, who emphatically conveys the challenges of living with a legend in her performance as well as a moxie that reflects the character’s east coast background. Lombardi may rule the playing field, but Marie controls the home turf. At home, she is as tough with her husband as any of his linebackers are on the field.

Yet, make no mistake that the play is entirely Lombardi’s, and Pittman, electrifies every scene with the vigor and veracity necessary to coach a winning team.

The third main character, reporter Michael McCormick (played by Chase Reynolds), is on hand to find out what makes Lombardi win for a major story he’s writing for Look magazine in 1965. McCormick also serves as a narrator, providing the necessary exposition to move the story forward. Reynolds, who bears a resemblance to a Channing Tatum, is cute and looks great on stage. Yet, as an actor, his is still young in his process and several of his moments fall flat. He fares somewhat better in scenes with the actors who are playing the football players; his comradery with them seems to buoy his confidence and offset his lack of technique.

Matthew Fields Winter adds a humorous and endearing performance of Paul Hornung, the bad boy who likes to party. Both William Broyles IV as player Dave Robinson and William Hayden Edgmon as player Jim Taylor are fine additions to the cast. Together, all three convey Lombardi’s impact on his players – especially when they share their initial impressions of the coach.

Reporter McCormick ends the play with a stirring observation that endures as the audience heads home: Lombardi is “the most imperfect, perfect man he ever met.”

The same conclusion is true for the audience as well. After seeing the show, football fans, as well as those novices to the game, leave with a better understanding why the trophy awarded at every Super Bowl is named after the man who once said, “It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.”

Lombardi

Through March 15

Desert Stages Theatre Actor’s Café

4720 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale

Tickets: $25; 480-483-1664

desertstages.org

Lombardi Director Shares His Game Plan

By Richard Schultz

Ahead of Desert Stages Theatre’s presentation of Lombardi, director and set designer Mark-Alan C. Clemente spoke to Echo Magazine about the challenges of bringing the larger-than-life character of Vince Lombardi to the stage.

Echo: What drew you to direct this play about legendary football coach Vince Lombardi?

Clemente: I grew up in Milwaukee and have been a Green Bay Packers fan all my life, as well as a fan of Vince Lombardi. My partner, Dennis, posted on Facebook that it would be a great idea for a theater to produce Lombardi during Super Bowl. I was fortunate to have directed many shows at Desert Stages and pursued directing it for them. In addition, I worked at the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre where the original Lombardi was staged and my friend Lee Ernst originated the role there before it went to Broadway.

Echo: What were the challenges of bringing this play to the stage?

Clemente: The show is a technical one show. To produce it in an intimate setting of the Actors Café, we were challenge by the limited space. The playwright Eric Simonson has Lombardi rising from beneath the stage in the opening scene. While we were unable to do that, we have something very special planned. In addition, casting a show that depicts real people is often a challenge. There is lots of research that needs to be done pre-production to get the characters right, as well as studying by the actors to honor them.

Echo: Why do you feel that Lombardi’s story still speaks to audiences?

Clemente: Lombardi's famous quotes are expertly written into the script and are very inspirational. As an audience member, you get to know who Vince Lombardi was and how his somewhat unethical methods of creating a winning team can be transferred to our daily lives. The Green Bay Packers organization has so much history and Lombardi was instrumental in laying the foundation of its traditions. In addition, Lombardi was a man of integrity. His legacy lives on through his famous football play, the Power Sweep, his commitment to the players and his acceptance of all players in a segregated era.

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