The legendary rivalry and close friendship shared by Larry Bird and Earvin “Magic” Johnson is getting the musical treatment as “Magic/Bird” opens on Broadway this spring of 2012.
The 90 minute musical drama is currently in previews at the Longacre Theatre, where it is scheduled to open on April 11. The show was developed by Fran Kirmser and Tony Ponturo, the same production team that brought the Tony-nominated “Lombardi” to Broadway in 2010, which successfully drew sports fans to Broadway and Broadway fans to a play about sports.
This is the hope for the new “Magic/Bird”, which focuses on the players’ lives both on and off the court.
The story follows the relationship of the two NBA superstars, starting with their collegiate rivalry that culminated in Johnson’s Michigan State beating Bird’s Indiana State for the 1979 NCAA Championship. The storyline continues to when there friendship began on the set of their famous 1985 Converse commercial, ending with their career highlighting 1992 Olympic medal run with USA’s “Dream Team.”
Tug Coker stars as Bird, Kevin Daniels (“Modern Family”) as Johnson, and Peter Scolari takes on the roles of Red Auerbach, Jerry Buss, and Pat Riley. The show intersperses live dialogue with actual NBA footage of the stars.
The NBA is a producing partner for the show, much in the same way that the NFL participated in the production and marketing of “Lombardi.”
The Magic/Bird story has been told before, by a popular Jackie MacMullan dual biography, as well as two recent documentaries; one by HBO in 2010, and the other, a 2012 ESPN project that focuses on the aftermath of Johnson’s revelation of his HIV positive status.
But, the Broadway stage will likely provide an element of intimacy that none of the previous works has provided.
Contributing to this is the personal touch of Bird and Johnson who both helped to develop the play through interviews and creative input. In a statement quoted by Playbill.com in early 2011, Bird said of the process, “I am fortunate to be working with great professionals…I am looking forward to working with them to create a story for the Broadway stage about such an exciting and important time in my life. ”
During the same interview with Playbill.com, Johnson also spoke of his passion for the project: “I have great love and respect for Larry Bird, and am elated that our personal and professional relationship will now be exposed to an even larger audience through this dramatic production.”
Official reviews are not available until after the April 11 opening, but sales in the show’s first week are looking slow. Attendance for the first seven preview performances in Longacre’s 1,077 seat theater totaled 3,645. This means that only about half of all available seats were filled in the first week.
Revenue is likewise suffering, compounded by the show’s low average admission price of $35.10. Revenue for the first week of previews added up to $127,931, compared with the first seven previews of Disney’s new musical “Newsies” at $828,882.
Tickets on the secondary market also seem to be suffering. Jason Berger, president of AllShows.com, is not seeing tickets move on the market. “At this point we haven’t seen sales for the show in any large numbers,” he told TicketNews in a recent interview.
The famed rivalry and friendship of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson may have moved fans for years, but only time will tell if it can move audiences to the Longacre this season.