The opening night of "Lombardi," the return of Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carré, featured an empty stage and the actual iconic trophy captured by the New Orleans Saints in their Superbowl XLIV win. The trophy is named for the legendary National Football League coach Vince Lombardi, whose no-nonsense commitment to professional football turned perennial losers into winners. The Eric Simonson play “Lombardi,” is based on a David Maraniss biography titled "When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi."
The play is all about Lombardi's rise to fame in the NFL and his incredible persona that literally changed the complexion of the game. The fact that he won the first two Superbowls back to back was not the single reason the NFL chose to name their highest award for him. He was simply an inspirational leader, a tremendous motivator and an extraordinary individual in his private manner.
The cast of “Lombardi” directed by Ron Gural, is top notch, led off by the fantastic team of Casey Groves as the legendary coach and his real life wife Rachel Whitman Groves as Marie Lombardi. Both of their performances yielded moments of brilliance and chemistry that often accompanies real life partners on stage. Their acting chops were quite laudable, but their roles were limited by Simonson's script, which oftentimes failed to do little more than scratch the surface of their characters. We don’t really get to know Vince Lombardi or wife Marie as real people, but only as two-dimensional characters.
Part of the problem is the overuse of exposition employed by the character of Michael McCormick, played by Kevin Songy, who serves as the narrator of the piece. The supporting characters were Ross Britz, who is exceptional as "Golden Boy” Paul Hornung, Carl Palmer as Jim Taylor and Ian Lawrence as Dave Robinson.
The sets by David Raphel are excellent as is the lighting and sound by Martin Sachs. Also, a shout out to costume designer Julie Winn, especially for the dresses she designed for the character of Marie Lombardi.
So, while the book is a little less than satisfactory, much of what one will see in “Lombardi” will score. The best news is that Le Petit Theatre, the grande dame of New Orleans theatre and what at the time of its closing had billed itself as the oldest continuously operating community theater in the nation, has finally reopened to the delight of local playgoers.
"Lombardi" ends its run at Le Petit Theatre on September 21. For tickets call 504-522-2081 or click here.