It wasn’t quite Lambeau Field East, but New York’s Circle in the Square Theatre might as well have been this past Saturday night as hundreds of Packers fans enjoyed the Broadway production of Lombardi.
With the Packers facing the Jets Sunday at the New Meadowlands Stadium, a number of fans of the Green and Gold took advantage of the opportunity to make it a New York weekend and filled a majority of the 800-plus seats in the venue.
Along with Packers President/CEO Mark Murphy, more than 160 members of the Packers front office, members of its board of directors and guests took in the play. Another large contingent from Packer Fan Tours was in attendance, as were other small groups of Packers fans from Wisconsin and around the country.
And with the better-than-average knowledge of Lombardi lore, the Packers and Green Bay, the audience provided an energized atmosphere for the performance.
“Tonight was a special night for us, knowing how many Packers fans were going to be here,” Tony Ponturo, one of the play’s producers, said to the group during a special talk-back session with the cast after the play. “We’re glad you enjoyed the production. It means a lot to us.”
Packers President/CEO Mark Murphy was invited to the stage and thanked the cast on behalf of the Packers clan.
“We’re proud of what you accomplished with the play,” he said. “Especially tonight for all our Packers fans here. You really captured Lombardi so well and gave us special memories.
“We wish you a great run and great success…And we hope to beat the Jets tomorrow.”
David Maraniss, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the best-selling biography, “When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi,” on which the play was based, was anxious to see how this audience reacted to the play’s dialogue. He was particularly interested in the response to a line that Marie Lombardi utters about a Green Bay store, Prange’s. The audience loved it.
“I’ve been waiting for months to see how they would respond to that, with their knowledge of the details in the play,” Maraniss said with a smile. “It was a great atmosphere tonight with all the people from Green Bay and Wisconsin in the audience…Really enjoyable.”
Beyond the general enjoyment fans from Green Bay had for the play, some in the audience had an even deeper appreciation based on first-hand relationships with the legendary coach.
For Carol Edwin, who was hired as a receptionist by Lombardi in 1965 and retired in 2008, it was a trip down memory lane.
“That truly was the way Lombardi was, with the intensity that Dan (Lauria) portrayed him. The offices were so small, you could hear him yelling at the players in the meeting rooms. He truly was more upset if they won but played poorly, than when they lost but played well,” she said, agreeing with moment in the play that relayed Lombardi’s legendary temper around the office.
“They really did an awesome job. Judith was outstanding as Marie, too.”
Tom Olejniczak, son of former Packers president Dominic Olejniczak and now a member of the Packers’ board of directors who was on the trip, was 10 years old when Lombardi came to Green Bay and had the opportunity to experience his tenure as he grew up.
“I told Dan he completely was on the mark with Lombardi,” said Olejniczak. “It was amazing. He had the voice, the accent, the mannerisms. He did get after everyone on the practice field, just as we saw in the play. He got after me a few times, ‘Tommy, get the hell off the field.’ “
The large number of Packers fans in the audience was another “celebrity” group to have attended the play. Other notables that have enjoyed the production recently are Regis Philbin, Jack Klugman, Tony Danza, Bill Cowher, Don Shula, and even Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez.
All have enjoyed seeing Lombardi come to life on stage, just as his former players have done. Many of them, including Jerry Kramer and Jim Taylor, saw the production opening night, Oct. 21.
Others, including more Packers fans, as well as football fans and theatre aficionados in general, also will come to see the legend live on and take a step back in time to experience cherished history.
For more information on the play, go to www.lombardibroadway.com.
To see photos from Lombardi on Broadway, click here.