‘Magic-Bird’: More ‘Spamalot’ than ‘Cat On A Hot Tin Roof’?

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(AP Photo/Charles Sykes)
Tug Coker, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Kevin Daniels appear at the curtain call for the opening night performance of the Broadway play “Magic/Bird” in New York on Wednesday night.

Taking the collection of reviews presented in today’s Sports Business Daily on the Broadway play “Magic/Bird” that opened last night in N.Y.:

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== It is an “efficiently informative but uninspired trek through the lives of two towering figures in sports history,” according to the N.Y. Times theater critic Charles Isherwood (linked here).
He wrote that the play represents “another workmanlike attempt to colonize a small patch of Broadway for the underserved straight male constituency” and that while “none who followed the concurrent NBA careers” of Basketball Hall of Famers Larry Bird and Magic Johnson are “likely to learn anything revelatory in ‘Magic/Bird,’ they may be content to relive the highlights reel presented here, which is amplified by scenes that attempt to portray the human side of the superhuman athletes.”
But the dual heroes “never emerge as nuanced or magnetic stage figures, and the celebrated rivalry between them … stirs little more excitement, since their relationship off the court was one of mutual respect but minimal interaction, and hardly intimate friendship.”
Isherwood writes HBO’s documentary “Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals” provided a “more in-depth and emotionally resonant take on their relationship.”


== The Associated Press’ Mark Kennedy wrote (linked here) under the header, “Broadway Play ‘Magic/Bird’ Is A Warm But Thin Look At 2 NBA Greats.”
The producers “cleverly use old video footage of the two ballplayers — the National Basketball Association is a co-producer — without letting it become an ESPN special.” Actor Kevin Daniels plays Johnson “with natural charisma and an ever-present smile,” and Tug Coker as Bird “sparks most of the night’s biggest laughs just for his dry delivery of a few words.” One of playwright Eric Simonson’s “neatest tricks is using a couple of barflies to help frame parts of the play.”
But some of his “least successful are the attempts to make the story bigger than what it is.” References to “busing, racism and exploitation of athletes are picked up but then dribble away.”

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== The Boston Globe’s Don Aucoin writes (linked here) that the team of producers “has heaved up an airball — or, at best, a jumper that clangs off the rim.” The “plodding pace, greatest-hits superficiality, and hagiographic tone of ‘Magic/Bird’ feels jarringly dated, especially at a time when ESPN’s ’30 for 30” documentary series has shown what provocative stories can be found and told by those willing to probe beneath the myths that surround sports icons.”
The play instead “floats along the surface, giving off a strong whiff of authorized biography.” A lot of “rich dramatic material is left on the sidelines, and two complex men register as cardboard figures who spout platitudes.”

== The New York Daily News’ Joe Dziemianowicz writes (linked here) the play is “by-the-numbers and stiffly acted,” and it “makes the great athletes look smaller than life.”
He adds, “As a dramatic meal, ‘M/B’ is a slim spread.”

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== The Philadelphia Daily News’ sports columnist Stan Hochman wrote (linked here) that Simonson “patches together a memorable quote here, a significant scene there,” and that “cut-and-paste system works in a ransom note, but not in a drama about real people.”
Daniels is “outstanding” as Johnson, “pitch-perfect in depicting the differences between Earvin and Magic.” Coker, in his Broadway debut, is “spot-on as the solemn Bird, hoarding his inner thoughts.” The other roles “border on caricature.” It is what Simonson “leaves out that is so troubling.”

== Entertainment Weekly’s Chris Nashawaty (linked here) gave the play a C+.
Daniels is “excellent as Johnson.” He “nails the Lakers star’s drive, competitiveness, cockiness, and weakness for the glitz of Tinseltown.” Coker “matches his every feint and crossover dribble in the tougher role of Bird, who was more of an enigma, less articulate, and rarely revealed what made him tick besides his will to perfection.”
Peter Scolari, in a series of roles that include Lakers coach Pat Riley, Lakers owner Jerry Buss, Celtics GM Red Auerbach and an obnoxious Boston sports fan, “is his own one-man show.” (Scolari also plays Bird’s agent Bob Woolf).
And Deirdre O’Connell, who also “handles several roles, shines brightest as Bird’s no-nonsense mother.” Still, as “vividly as the actors inhabit their parts, Eric Simonson’s story is a bit too thin for Broadway.”
The play is “primarily concerned with dramatizing the inner lives of these men, which may have been the least exciting thing about them.”

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== ESPNW’s Amanda Rykoff wrote (linked here) in a “pivotal scene that provides the heart of the play, Larry’s mother hosts Johnson and Bird for lunch at her home in French Lick, Ind.”
The lunch took place during the summer of 1985, when the two rivals filmed a Converse commercial to plug their respective sneakers.
In the lunch scene, one of the “longest in the 90-minute play, Georgia welcomes Johnson warmly to the house.” She proceeds to “tease her son by talking about how much she admires Bill Laimbeer and Isiah Thomas.
Simonson said “when it came to the lunch scene between Magic and Larry, which was so key to the relationship, I had to make a lot of stuff up. (Magic and Larry) just couldn’t remember exactly what happened at that lunch or what was said. I went to other sources.” Simonson “took it upon himself to create a character based on information he did have” about Bird’s mother.

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