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5/13/12

Magic/Bird Goes Down...Yeah, Sports

Sports on Broadway...yeah, that is a spotty topic. Combining two forms of entertainment on opposite ends of the spectrum needs to find the right story and inspired direction to even get the ball rolling. After that, you need to find a committed cast willing to ditch their Juilliard or Tisch school dance/vocal/acting training that cost them thousands in favor of *gasp* throwing a football or shooting a basket.

What else...you need to find an audience of Broadway fans willing to forgo Sondheim and Schwartz for an evening to hangout with athletes, in stirrup pants or mesh shorts, that probably terrorized some of the gays going back to their school days. And you need to find a bunch of sports fans willing to hang out with the elderly or theater gays - or even worse, their wives - in the place they probably would not be caught dead in...the theater.

So, are we supposed to be like...doing something?
Exactly...basically, a sports-themed show is mostly an idealistic concept where the genre and audience mix can happen without batting an eye. A sport can be on the side or a backdrop to a bigger plot - think Lysistrata Jones or High School Musical - but as a driving force of the show? That is tricky to pull off.

For those reasons alone, Magic/Bird, which closed this past weekend, did not stand much of a chance in the wave of the new shows. The show opened with some negative reviews and poor box office grosses (and not a single Tony nomination), so its closing was inevitable. I am a little surprised that it held on for this long.

I do not really want to kick a show when it is already down, but it was not good by any means. In short, it looked like an ESPN Classic documentary that you would watch...at 3:00 in the morning. The stage was bombarded with televisions playing old news and basketball footage, combined with large projections on the stage (which by the way, that trend is becoming cliche). There really was not any scene of substance, with a bulk of it just watching Larry Bird and Magic Johnson talk somewhere or to someone. Part of the problem is exactly that...there really is not much of a story here. While the concept has potential - two rivals turned friends while both at the top of their playing careers - they doesn't exactly translate to the stage, especially Larry's slow-talking demeanor and Magic's low-key personality pre-HIV infection (compared to his peers).

Look, I’ll be honest…I was not particular excited to see this show. Early buzz was weak and I saw it out of the “hey, look at this super cheap ticket. Okay, I’ll go…” sort of thing. I like sports more then your average theater nerd – I have played a few competitively in the past and I play a pick-up football/volleyball game every now and then – but for the very same reason I am telling you, the idea of a sports-led show is long considered a displaced concept.

Regardless, Eric Simonson, the writer of the show, deserves some credit. As far as I know, there has not been a sport-themed show that set Broadway on fire and that it really is a trope less traveled. Do you know what that means? That means - pardon the pun - that some show may come to Broadway and be a game changer, just as Friday Night Lights has popped up in recent years or even Raging Bull or Rocky has done for boxing. It is only a matter of time until Broadway finds its own, don't ya think?

Well, Simonson has put out 2 shows within two years of each other to kick off the search. Last year’s attempt, Lombardi, had better reviews and a more high profile cast (and greater box office draw) in Dan Lauria and Judith Light. The latter of which was also nominated for a Tony; albeit, she was the show’s only nominee and that may not speak to the material as it does Judith Light’s fabulosity.

But still…who can criticize Simonson for trying and even though Magic/Bird was a step in the wrong direction, at least he went there. I may not remember the show for being entertaining or even what it was attempting…but I will remember it (and not because it was funny-bad). I’ll remember it for not being a pointless, disappointing and/or terrible musical rehash (*cough* Baby Its You) or some uninspired movie adaptation. I want that day to come where I am sitting near a bunch of jersey-wearing sports fans telling me things like “hey, this theater is nice” or “man, we should go see Once next; I heard it is good and is nominated for a Tony or something. I heard they have a bar on stage; beers for everyone.”

Who knows…

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