The Broadway play Magic/Bird, which details the relationship between NBA greats Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, hasn't lit up the box office scoreboard in its first two weeks.
The play, according to figures from the Broadway League, averaged only 55 percent full attendance at the Longacre Theater and generated a mere $163,223 in the week ending April 22.
But producers Fran Kirmser and Tony Ponturo say they are not particularly worried.
Like 'Lombardi,' we are finding this is a word-of-mouth process, Ponturo said. As people come to see the show and enjoy it, it creates a good word of mouth.
The play, starring Tug Coker as Larry Bird and Kevin Daniels as Magic Johnson, details the pair's parallel histories and how they eventually became good friends. It delves into the legendary battles between Johnson's Los Angeles Lakers and Bird's Boston Celtics, the making of a Converse commercial in Bird's hometown of French Lick, Ind., and Johnson's memorable HIV announcement.
The tale of two men from very different racial and regional backgrounds has not been a big hit with the critics. The New York Times called it an efficiently informative but uninspired trek through the lives of two towering figures in sports history. The Huffington Post's Michael Glitz wrote, The rest of the show is a dull recitation of facts with most of the excitement coming from old footage of great games. Even this newspaper said, The ball is bouncing around the makeshift court at New York's Longacre Theater, but one's pulse easily drifts to a different beat.
Kirmser/Ponturo, who also produced Lombardi about legendary NFL coach Vince Lombardi, believe that reviews don't mean as much with the crowd attracted to this play. Magic/Bird has tapped into the male demographic often absent from Broadway theaters who have come out to reminisce about the two NBA Hall of Famers and might not care whether critics approved.
With 'Lombardi' we had mixed reviews and with 'Magic/Bird' it's the exact same thing, Kirmser said. With the consumer we are finding they are going in and loving the show. At the end of the day reviews don't have that big of an impact: The average sports fan wouldn't even think to look at a review in the Arts & Leisure section of The New York Times.
The producing pair believes that despite some poor reviews, Magic/Bird is moving the ball forward by telling a new story. It might not have the financial success of a Disney musical on Broadway, but it serves a purpose by offering something that hasn't been seen a million times before.
One of the things that is important to us is we are inspired to do new things and tell new stories at theaters, Ponturo said. We hope not only people who have never been to the theater show up, but we hope [regular theatergoers] keep an open mind and allow the process to continue to develop.
The play has been criticized for not going more deeply into a few topics -- Larry Bird doesn't mention his father killing himself -- but that likely occurred due to two reasons. First is that Johnson and Bird had to sign off on the play, which is why it might not delve into how Johnson contracted HIV or why the racial issues were quite subtle. The other is that producers didn't want to stray too far off of the main story: the relationship between Johnson and Bird.
If you go too far down a road it becomes a different story, a different play, Kirmser said. If we had gone down great depths and the played turned into Magic Johnson and HIV, then where's Larry Bird?
Tickets are available from $40 to $200 and Kirmser notes that you don't have to sit in the front row of the orchestra to have the best view. The play relies on highlights of the two NBA greats playing, as well as footage of the famous Magic Johnson HIV announcement, which adds another dimension to the piece and even benefits some of the patrons in the back of the theater.
Magic/Bird was written by Eric Simonson and directed by Thomas Kail.