Magic vs. Bird preparing to go Broadway
Barring the occasional shot at playing Abraham Lincoln or Lurch, a 6-9 actor is seldom in demand. So a recent casting notice that stated "taller is good" was something of a dream for the lankiest thespians on Broadway.
Late last week, casting agency Telsey & Company played host to auditions for the lead roles in "Magic/Bird," an upcoming Broadway play based on the relationship between basketball superstars Larry Bird and Earvin "Magic" Johnson. The agency's Midtown office was like a convention for the vertically blessed.
"We definitely have some tall people here," said Fran Kirmser, who is producing the show with her partner, Tony Ponturo.
Kirmser and Ponturo also were responsible for "Lombardi," the bio-play about legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi. That show was warmly received, and its eight-month run at the Circle in the Square Theater -- the longest run of any play that opened last fall -- ended in May.
"Magic/Bird," like "Lombardi" before it, seems determined to do something unconventional: recruit first-time theater-goers while satisfying the expectations of Broadway regulars. The play is scheduled to open March 21.
"I think 'Lombardi' helped in the sense that it gave credibility to the concept of a sports play on Broadway," Ponturo said. "There's an understanding now that you can bring something different to that particular entertainment space."
One factor working in the new play's favor is the backing of Johnson and Bird, who are the "underlying rights holders," Kirmser said, and have been involved with the creative process. Eric Simonson, who wrote the script, has consulted and interviewed them. Johnson even sat in on a table reading of the script in Los Angeles this summer, which Ponturo said was a unique thrill for the actors.
"This play is extremely important to Earvin," said Lon Rosen, Johnson's longtime agent. "He's excited. He's proud. It means a lot to him."
Johnson and Bird were iconic figures throughout the 1980s, when they combined to win eight NBA titles (Johnson with the Los Angeles Lakers, Bird with the Boston Celtics) and resuscitated a league that had become more or less background noise by the end of the 1970s.
The show, which will feature six actors, including the two in the title roles, will consist of 20 rapid-fire scenes over 90 intermission-free minutes. The idea is to give the production the up-tempo feel of a basketball game while covering plenty of material -- from the pair's first meeting in the 1979 NCAA championship game, to their decade-long rivalry, to Johnson's announcement that he was HIV positive, to Bird's struggles with late-career injuries. Through those experiences, which culminated in their time together on the 1992 US Olympic Team, the two forged a friendship.