by JC Paustian, owner of Just Act Natural
When my brother asked me to go with him to a "reading" of the Broadway play Lombardi at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center in downtown Appleton, I thought it would be, at the least, a different way to spend 90 minutes of my Friday night. In other words, the bar wasn't set too high. Yeah, I love the Packers. I love Lombardi's coaching style and personality, but a "reading" of the play? Ok, fine, I'll go.
The show was "read" by the original Broadway cast and is based on the fictitious account of a magazine reporter who spends one week with the Lombardi's at their home and on the practice field.
The cast first went to Green Bay for two shows inside Lambeau Field and then came to Appleton for a three-day, five-show appearance July 28-30.
The show itself, which features only six characters, ran for eight months to glowing reviews in New York City. Vince Lombardi is played by Dan Lauria, who is most famous for his role on TV as the dad in The Wonder Years.
As I envisioned what a "reading" would look like, I figured the actors would stand on stage, no costumes, and read from podiums. Sounds very exciting.
My brother and I were among the sold-out crowd in the Kimberly-Clark Theater at the PAC. Every seat is a good seat and no one is too far from the stage.
As the actors took the stage, there they were IN COSTUME! It looked like the ghost of Lombardi was right there in front of us. Lauria looked the part to a T. And then there were the Packers characters of Paul Hornung, Dave Robinson and Jim Taylor, all dressed in sweats. Also on stage were the characters of Marie Lombardi, Vince's wife, and the fictitious reporter, Michael McCormick.
They all had the individual manuscripts that they held onto, but not a single time did any of the actors reference their binders. In one scene Marie used the manuscript binder as an atlas prop as she's trying to find Green Bay. One of many hilarious scenes.
Once Laurie started talking I knew this was going to be something special. Scratch that. Not talking; acting. This was no "reading." This was a first-class Broadway show minus the props and sets. Laurie is a seasoned actor on stage, on TV and in film. He was brilliant! His performance was the best live acting I've ever seen.
About halfway through the performance, I kept thinking about my father, who passed away 5-1/2 years ago and how he would've thoroughly enjoyed this play. I can just picture and hear him laughing dozens of times during the show.
He was sports editor of The Post-Crescent for more than 30 years and covered hundreds of Packers games in his life, including the tenure of Vince Lombardi. My dad even reminded me of Lombardi sometimes with his glasses, trench coach, fedora and yes, even his yelling.
It was a great show through and through, and I thank my brother for inviting me to the show and the PAC for getting the actors to perform. I hope the PAC can get the full-blown Lombardi show sometime down the road, but if not, I am quite content with my "reading."