Packers fans that missed the play “Lombardi” during its eight-month run on Broadway will have a chance to experience a full reading of the play’s script by a full cast, starring Dan Lauria as former Packers coach Vince Lombardi, when “Lombardi” comes to Green Bay in July.
“We were supposed to run eight weeks and we ran eight months,” Lauria told packers.com. “A lot of that has to do with Packers fans coming and seeing it.”
Packers fans can experience “Lombardi” in the most appropriate of venues, the Lambeau Field Atrium, on July 26-27. The cast will then perform a full reading at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center in Appleton on July 28, 29-30. A 10-minute reading of excerpts from the play will be performed at the July 28 shareholders meeting.
Lauria immersed himself into the title role, but he confessed that it was one of the easiest roles for which he’s ever had to prepare. A football fan and former player, Lauria already had a special fondness for Lombardi, and Lauria was a natural for the part.
“He was the fans’ pick to play Vince Lombardi,” Producer Fran Kirmser said of Lauria.
Lauria nailed the part, right down to the distinct Lombardi voice, which Lauria performed for his interviewer during a telephone conversation. Lauria accented perfectly “in the alley” and “What the hell’s going on out here?” – both of which are famous Lombardi sound bites.
“When you play somebody like Lombardi, it’s got to have that tone to it,” Lauria said. “This was one of the easiest roles to play, because of the NFL. We had access to the ballplayers and the films. Everyone wanted to share their experiences with Coach Lombardi.”
While doing his research, Lauria was taken by one particular dynamic between Vince and Marie Lombardi.
“Marie and Vince would lock pinkies. If he lost his temper, she’d lock pinkies with him to tell him to calm down,” Lauria said.
The “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” remark?
“He hated that. He always wished he hadn’t said that,” Lauria said.
“I played ball in high school and college, grew up in Brooklyn and on Long Island in a very heavy Italian community. Long before this play, I had read the books.”
Kirmser is of Italian descent and it played heavily in her dream to make “Lombardi” a reality.
“Lombardi is a huge figure for Italian-Americans,” Kirmser said.
Kirmser’s favorite scene from the play is from a time in Lombardi’s life when he was offered a job as an executive at a bank in New York.
“At the same time, the call came from the Packers. He makes this decision and forever football will be changed,” she said.
Kirmser’s co-producer, Tony Ponturo, is old enough to have lived through the Lombardi years, and he was well-versed in Lombardi’s frustration at being passed over for the head coach’s jobs at West Point and with the Giants.
“What I like about the play is that Lombardi was very persevering. He was in his late 40s and not giving up on his dream to be a head coach. It’s a great message for all people not to give up on your dream,” Ponturo said.
“You get to see all of these moments, when he talks it over with his wife and they make the decision. She said I’m behind you. It’s an amazing scene,” Kirmser said.
“There’s a great scene with Jim Taylor,” Ponturo added. “Lombardi talks about how they have a difference of opinion and how they push each other and make each other better.”
“Everyone in Green Bay has to come and see this. I came back to New York from Green Bay and told everyone they should go to Green Bay. We feel we’ve done a tremendous job. We were the longest running play on Broadway,” Kirmser said.
“Lombardi” was inspired by the book “When Pride Still Mattered,” written by David Maraniss.
“I’m delighted by it. I think the play captured the essence of Lombardi and his relationships, and what it takes to be a great leader and what it costs. Susan and Vince (Lombardi’s children) have seen the play and were very taken by it. Susan said to Judith Light, ‘You are my mother,’” Maraniss said.
Light’s performance as Marie Lombardi has drawn rave reviews. Light, however, is performing elsewhere and will not appear in the local readings.
“I grew up in Wisconsin, in Madison," Maraniss said. "The Packers were in their glory years when I was in adolescence. They were huge. I never met Lombardi but if I had, his first words would’ve been, ‘Maraniss, get your hair cut.’ Lombardi had a special appeal for me. He came from Brooklyn; my dad came from Brooklyn.”
The book exposed a dysfunctional family and it was the play’s subplot.
“Lombardi was able to create a very loving family among his team, but not with his family at home. That’s a common characteristic of leaders,” Maraniss said.
“It was one of the great experiences of my life. Of all the books I’ve written, the Lombardi book was, by far, the most popular.”
Lauria’s performance is one of the main reasons the play is as successful as it is.
“It was right on the nose. It was Vince Lombardi on the stage. We were watching Vince Lombardi. (Lauria’s) commitment to the role is amazing,” Ponturo said.
Lauria was most impressed by the procession of football stars that attended the play.
“Dave Robinson came to rehearsals,” Lauria said of the all-time great Packers linebacker. “Hornung, Taylor, Jerry Kramer, Huff, Jurgensen; Taylor came twice. Gifford came three times.
“They all told us some funny stories and every one of them would break into tears. Forty years later, this man still has that effect. Huff had to hug and console (Jurgensen).”
Tickets may be purchased for the Lambeau Field Atrium readings for $45 through Ticketmaster (www.ticketmaster.com, 800-982-2787, at outlets), as well as in person at the Packers’ ticket office. Tickets for the readings at the Performing Arts Center start at $30 and can be purchased in person at the P.A.C. ticket office, through Ticketmaster and online at www.foxcitiespac.com.
The Lambeau Field Atrium readings begin at 7:30 p.m. The readings at the P.A.C. are set for 7:30 p.m. on July 28, 29-30, and also at 2 p.m. on July 29-30. The cast will wear minimal costumes and some makeup.