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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the Longacre


  Ph: Joan Marcus

The well-known, very intriguing friendship between basketball icons Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, which was previously explored in the documentary film Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals, makes for a polite but altogether lifeless and sanitized stage drama in Magic/Bird.

It is a product of the same creative team behind last season’s sports-genre play Lombardi, including director Thomas Kail (best known for the Tony-winning musical In the Heights) and playwright Eric Simonson. Based on Simonson’s conversations with Johnson and Bird, the six-actor show is composed primarily of very short scenes along with some direct narration to the audience.

This is perhaps the first play in memory that begins with a sort of curtain call, in which the names of each actor and character are announced and the audience is cued to cheer as if a team is entering the arena.

It begins with the 1979 NCAA title game where Johnson (Kevin Daniels) and Bird (Tug Coker) Kail’s visually attractive production is marked by a giant LED screen for frequent video clips and a revolving basketball hoop. But except for some layups and dribbling, there is very little actual basketball onstage.

The problem with Magic/Bird is that no conflict ever develops between the glitzy Johnson and more folksy and quiet Bird, who remain painfully polite and respectful to each other. The short scenes, which glorify their achievements and display a few meetings between them, hardly add up to anything of interest. The uneventful play ultimately resembles an audio-visual presentation of a Wikipedia article. It would probably be a better fit for a Lakers or Celtics Fan Day than Broadway.

Although neither Daniels nor Coker is exactly as tall as Johnson or Bird, they are sure to gain the approval of any diehard fans looking for accurate representations. Bird is presented as utterly quiet and dull. Even if that’s how he acts in real life, it makes for a very strange and uninteresting character reminiscent of Lurch from The Addams Family. The more easygoing and glitzy Johnson also lacks dimension in spite of some confessional moments.

Since Simonson and Kail seem to be creating an ongoing series of sports plays, I can’t help but wonder what’s next and whether it can be better than Lombardi and Magic/Bird. If the pair wants to give baseball a shot, how about a show about George Steinbrenner? His career was certainly full of drama. 



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