‘Magic/Bird’ on Broadway: What did the critics think?


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‘Magic/Bird,’ the new play by Eric Simonson that opened this week on Broadway, tells the story of the rivalry and off-court relationship between two of basketball’s greatest players -- Larry Bird and Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson.

A basketball-themed play, at the Longacre Theatre, may seem like an odd fit for Broadway, where financial success is still defined by the mega-musical likes of ‘Wicked’ and ‘The Lion King.’ But the modest success of ‘Lombardi’ in 2010 proved that a sports play could find its audience amid the theatrical razzle-dazzle of New York.


Simonson also happened to pen ‘Lombardi’ and he was brought on board ‘Magic/Bird’ by some of the same producers. Tug Coker and Kevin Daniels play Bird and Johnson, respectively. Their athletic rivalry pitted Bird’s Boston Celtics against Johnson’s Los Angeles Lakers.

Johnson, now one of the new owners of the Los Angeles Dodgers, was in New York this week for the play’s opening. He and Bird appeared Wednesday on ‘Late Night with David Letterman.’

How did critics -- a group of people not known for their sports enthusiasm -- react to the play? Their response so far has been less than enthusiastic, to say the least.

The New York Times’ Charles Isherwood wrote that the ‘dual heroes never emerge as nuanced or magnetic stage figures, and the celebrated rivalry between them ... stirs little more excitement.’ Their athletic accomplishments ‘can probably never be dramatized in any truly engaging manner onstage.’ David Rooney of the Hollywood Reporter described the play as a ‘bio-patchwork’ and a ‘wispy tribute that gives only sketchy insights into these exceptional athletes.’ The play fails to weave the lives and careers of the protagonists ‘into anything more than a mildly engaging drama.’

New York Magazine’s Scott Brown called the play ‘an animatronic Epcot pavilion seemingly designed and operated by the NBA.’ Overall, it feels ‘edited together like a highlight reel.’

Chris Nashawaty of Entertainment Weekly wrote that the production features some nice performances but the ‘story is a bit too thin for Broadway.’ After the curtain falls, ‘you can’t help feeling that these men were most compelling when they let their play on the court do the talking.’

Here’s a clip of their appearance with Letterman.


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-- David Ng