Lombardi came home to Lambeau on Tuesday evening, with a moving performance by Dan Lauria in the title role and a script that offered a touching and authentic look into the life of legendary Packers coach Vince Lombardi and his family’s struggle to compete for his attention.
A reading? Oh, no, it was much more than that. This wasn’t Broadway, nor was it the theater-in-a-round in which the play ran for eight months, but the cast’s performance was touching and drama-filled. Most of all, Lauria’s portrayal of Lombardi brought Lombardi back to life in the house he made famous, Lambeau Field.
“I played ball. I’m Italian from New York,” Lauria told packers.com when asked to explain how he was able to so fully absorb the role.
Simply put, Lombardi might be the best look into the life of the man and his family art has ever offered. The play, of course, is based on David Maraniss’ literary masterpiece, When Pride Still Mattered.
“The play was not a whitewash,” Lauria said, referring to the fact it deals with sensitive family issues. Lombardi is portrayed as a husband and father whose first love is football.
“Paul Hornung was his bad son, Bart Starr was his good son, and his real son he didn’t have time for. He came about three months before we closed,” Lauria said of Vince Lombardi Jr. “It was like, gee, I thought the old man was back. ‘That’s what it was like to live in my house.’”
In researching the role, Lauria went so far as to visit the Lombardi’s former Green Bay home. The owner gave Lauria a memento, a cabinet door knob, from his visit.
“When I went to the house, I went back to my youth. You’d think he’d have a mansion, but here he had a house like I had,” Lauria said.
The play’s producers, Fran Kirmser and Tony Ponturo, were on hand for Tuesday night’s performance.
“Lambeau is amazing. Everybody should come here,” Kirmser said.
“These are the real fans of Lombardi,” Ponturo said.
Maraniss also attended the reading, the first of consecutive-night performances. The cast will provide an excerpt from the play at Thursday’s shareholders meeting.
“It just feels right,” Maraniss said of the play finishing up at Lambeau Field.
Maraniss is from Madison and covered the Packers for the Washington Post in 1996, when the Packers went on to win Super Bowl XXXI, the franchise’s first league title since Lombardi was its coach.
Kirmser is proudest of the fact that Lombardi was the longest-running play on Broadway during its run. She’s following Lombardi with another sports-related production, Magic Bird, which features the relationship of legendary basketball players “Magic” Johnson and Larry Bird.
“A lot of people were suspect of a sports play,” Ponturo said of Lombardi. “It really surprised a lot of people.”
Reviews have been favorable. About 70 percent of reviews of new plays are negative. About 60 percent of Lombardi’s reviews were “rave” and about 10 percent “good.”
The packed room of Packers fans that witnessed Tuesday’s reading would no doubt swell the play’s “rave” percentage.