By ROGER SMITH - For the Star Beacon
CLEVELAND — Here in northeast Ohio, we’ve just finished the third week of the NFL season, and our Browns are emulating the pre-Lombardi Green Bay teams with a record of 0 – 3.
On the stage at Cleveland Play House, Vince Lombardi — legendary coach — continues his winning ways with the Packers in the current production of “Lombardi” that is kicking off the 2012-13 season at the 97 year old regional theater – the oldest in the nation.
Lombardi recognized the frustration of the fans that had supported, however sparsely, a losing team for a dozen years in a row. Believing that if one is not first he is last and subscribing to the Jesuit philosophy of ‘freedom through discipline’, he set out to turn the team around.
The narration is done by a fictional Look Magazine reporter sent to the frozen north to write the story of the coach after whom the coveted Super Bowl trophy is named. The reporter, Michael McCormick, is the only fictional character in the show, and actor Nick Mills very ably led the audience step by step through his fact-gathering visit to Green Bay. McCormick’s first encounter with a Lombardi was with Marie, wife to Vince, the unsung coach who loved her cigarettes, her martinis and her husband.
As the story line unfolded, it was evident that Marie was going to be a play caller in Vince’s rise to coaching stardom, albeit from behind the line. In a stellar performance, Deedee Rescher uncloaked Lombardi better than Vince, himself, could.
Of course, without men to coach there would have been no story to gather and no script to pen. Relationships with well known Packers Paul Hornung, Jim Taylor and Dave Robinson were woven into the show, telling how Lombardi was seen through the eyes of his players. The talents of Branton Box, David Hardie and William Oliver Watkins, respectively, were key in creating an understanding of what and why and who Lombardi was. Each of these actors scored with his performance.
Bob Ari, recently seen as artist Mark Rothko in the Play House production of “Red,” is once again on the Cleveland stage as the title character in Lombardi. Ari got to the very soul of Vince Lombardi with his interpretation of the coach who went to Mass every morning, quoted St. Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, and was filled with determination, tradition, a big voice and an unmatched desire to have those under his tutelage be successful.
Though football aficionados will relish sitting through this production, those who are not so into the pigskin sport could and probably would enjoy seeing the show. It seems that football is with us as a major sport and a hefty boost to local economies on game days. It makes sense to learn about that part of history that stays with us from August through Super Bowl Sunday. So far this season, Cleveland Play House has a record of 1 – 0. Go team!
Vince and the Packers will be at Cleveland Play House in PlayhouseSquare in downtown Cleveland through Oct. 7. Single tickets may be ordered at 216-241-6000. Teams (groups) of 10 or more should call 216-400-7027. Ticket prices range from $49 to $69 and the cost for students under 25 with ID is $15. Tickets may also be secured at www.clevelandplayhouse.com .