Broadway plans play on Magic Johnson, Larry Bird

Published February 17, 2011

| Associated Press

The playwright behind the Broadway play "Lombardi" is moving from the gridiron to the basketball court.

Eric Simonson is working on "Magic/Bird," a new play that will chronicle the lives of Hall of Famers Larry Bird and Magic Johnson.

Producers Fran Kirmser and Tony Ponturo were encouraged by the response to "Lombardi" — the story of legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi now on Broadway — to push ahead with a second sports-themed play.

"We've been fired on by the experience to keep on going and really feel that it can be a really thriving series," Kirmser said Thursday in a phone interview.

The story will trace the stars' rivalry and friendship from their days as rookies in the NBA to their appearance on the Olympic Dream Team in 1992. Johnson and Bird were key parts in the storied struggle between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers during the 1980s.

"Here are these two, amazing at their craft, inspiring to watch, and yet they couldn't be more different people," said Kirmser. "There was a fierce competitiveness between them and yet such a great love and respect."

The six-character play is scheduled to debut on Broadway in 2012. The script is in development and no theater or director has been chosen. Johnson and Bird will participate in the creative process.

Like "Lombardi," which benefited from endorsement by the NFL, the new play about Bird and Magic will be produced in conjunction with the NBA.

That means that the NBA's marketing muscle will be deployed and will allow the creative team to take advantage of the league's film and archives. The producers say the new play will have more action sequences than "Lombardi," which had little actual football playing on stage.

Does that mean the audience will see an actor try to drain a 3-point-shot on a Broadway stage? "We shall see," Kirmser said, laughing.

Kirmser and Ponturo have found some success in the unlikely combination of sports and theater, and point to an increase in the number of men attending "Lombardi" than a traditional play.

"For us, it's finding the right property," said Ponturo. "We do like building this series of sports biography projects, but at the end of the day, you do have to have something that's compelling for the theater-goer."

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