The very last topic many would expect to see Broadway tackle is one that actually involves tackling. But “Lombardi” — a play about the legendary NFL coach Vince Lombardi starring Dan Lauria in the title role — aims to lure some football junkies to the theatre while also giving the more traditional Broadway fan a unique look into a life that featured all the elements of a great drama.
“Lombardi” began previewing at The Circle in the Square Theatre last night, September 23, and officially opens Thursday, October 21. It takes place during a week in the 1965 season and examines not only how Lombardi became the best-known coach in NFL history — he directed the Green Bay Packers to five NFL championships, including wins in the first two Super Bowls, and had the Super Bowl trophy re-named in his honor just a week after his death from colon cancer in 1970 — but also his relationship with his wife, portrayed by Judith Light.
“We want to do shows for everybody,” director Thomas Kail told Broadway Beat, referring to himself and writer Eric Simonson, the latter of whom penned the play based on the biography “When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi” by David Maraniss. “I think Eric wrote a play that lets everybody participate. It’s about a family. It’s about striving for excellence set in the world of football. I think the football fan will see the authenticity and the theatre fan will say ‘oh this is a story about a family,’ like so many of those great American plays that we love.”
Adding to the football authenticity is the involvement of the NFL, which is a producing and marketing partner in the show. This marks the first time a professional sports league has endorsed a Broadway show.
It’s a profitable venture for both parties: The play will gain credence with gridiron fans as soon as they walk into the Circle in the Square lobby, which features Lombardi and Packers memorabilia provided by the NFL. And the NFL, already the most popular league in America, gets an opportunity to tap into a new demographic: According to the New York Observer, 66 percent of Broadway tickets last year were sold to women.
“We try to be as innovative as we can in [reaching audiences],” NFL vice president of entertainment marketing and promotion Tracy Perlman told the Observer. “The [show] is going to appeal to women and families as much as men, and we’ll have a presence in an area people may not have thought we would be involved in.”
Football fans will have plenty of chances to see “Lombardi” without missing out on any of the current season’s action. Sunday is the only dark day during the month of previews, and once the show starts, the only dark night is Monday.
“This is a new ship right now, doing the NFL on Broadway,” co-star Keith Nobbs told Broadway Beat. “The idea is hopefully that you’ll have someone who loves the theatre sitting side by side with their father, who had never been to a play in his life and both of them will be moved and both of them will be transported by a well-told theatrical story.”