Starting This Week, Basketball Goes Broadway

It may not be “Linsanity: The Musical,” but starting this week with previews at the Longacre Theater, a basketball story makes its way to Broadway. The six person play is “Magic/Bird,” and it tells the story of basketball legends Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Larry Bird, and how their relationship evolved over time to be one that transcended sports, both in good times and bad.

Created by the team that brought “Lombardi” to Broadway, producers Fran Kirmser and Tony Ponturo, director Thomas Kail and writer Eric Simonson, the 90 minute drama will also have the support of the NBA, which lent its marketing assistance and marks to a play for the first time.

Joining actors Kevin Daniels as Johnson and Tug Coker as Bird, will be Deirdre O’Connell as Georgia Bird/Shelly/Patricia Moore, Peter Scolari as Red Auerbach/Jerry Buss/Pat Riley, Rob Ray Manning Jr. as Michael Cooper/Henry Alvarado/Frank, and Francois Battiste as Jon Lennox/Ron Baxter/Willy.

While fans of “Modern Family” may also recognize Daniels for his recurring role on the hit show, the biggest name in the cast is Scolari, best known for his roles in “Bosom Buddies” and “Newhart,” among other places. His talents may be best challenged in carrying off the different roles of three basketball icons from different eras, while Coker and Daniels concentrate on getting the look, feel, and maybe shots, down of two of sports greatest stars and living legends.

The play represents another attempt to bring a theater audience to understand the drama of sport, and pull a sports audience into Broadway, with the hope that both sides of the house will find a common ground around such a transcendent story.  While it is not a story about a New York hero, it is still a perfect companion to what hopefully will be a spring full of basketball as the Knicks progress along.

So no, don’t expect to see “J-Lin” dancing across a stage or Amar’e belting out a few tunes, but do expect to be entertained by a story that is known by the casual fan, but could always use a strong reminder.

The play is going through its “preseason” now, with opening night scheduled for April 11.

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