Tomorrow evening the Broadway play Magic/Bird has its opening night. The play follows the rivalry–and ultimately friendship–between NBA legends Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Starring Kevin Daniels as Johnson and Tug Coker as Bird, the play chronicles the careers of the two men, from college to retirement, with Johnson’s HIV diagnosis a key turning point.
The play uses the media, from college beat reporters to Bryant Gumbel to a now-infamous Converse ad, to help move the plot forward. Francois Battiste, who plays multiple characters in the play, delivers a dynamite Gumbel impersonation, bringing laughs every time he assumed the role on stage (pictured below).
The role the media plays is not unlike the last play produced by the team of Tony Ponturo and Fran Kirmser, Lombardi, about the NFL coach.
In Lombardi, the protagonist was a young reporter looking to profile the legendary Packers coach. His tale propelled the story forward in a linear way.
In Magic/Bird the media is used to help underscore the rivalry between Johnson and Bird in the early scenes, and later plays a pivotal role in forging the friendship that lasts til this day. The college reporters, Gumbel and the others ask questions of Johnson and bird, thus revealing what they think about the competition, and their place in the NBA. It is an effective mechanism to get inside the heads of the players, while also being true to the world of sports and sports media.
The use of TV clips, from archival game footage to that Converse commercial, is extremely well done, and adds pizazz to a relatively sparse set.
Daniels’ Johnson sparkles, while Coker does his best to imitate Bird, who is a tough person to imitate, given his straight-laced, and even boring, demeanor. The supporting cast are all excellent, though because they played so many different people, it was not always easy to determine who they were during some moments of the play.
The play moves along at a brisk 90 minutes, and never felt slow.
Magic/Bird opens on Broadway tomorrow.