SBD/May 20, 2011/Sports in Society

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  • Ponturo, Kirmser Reflect On "Lombardi" As Show Ends Run On Broadway

    Lombardi will wrap up last performance on Broadway on Sunday

    After an eight-month run, “Lombardi” will exit the Broadway stage this Sunday. The play, based on the life of the great Vince Lombardi, broke new ground by blending sports and theater, an avenue Producers Fran Kirmser and Tony Ponturo will continue to explore as they bring the story of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird to the stage. Days before the curtain shuts on “Lombardi,” Kirmser and Ponturo chatted with Assistant Managing Editor Brian Helfrich about their adventure.

    Q: After Sunday’s performance, what happens to “Lombardi?”
    Kirmser: The show is going up in Milwaukee with Milwaukee Repertory Company in October. I believe that’s a six-week run. Also, we have interest across the country to license the show.
    Ponturo: From a licensing standpoint, what we did is, rather than create a tour ourselves, we licensed the show so theaters around the country can then buy the rights to the play itself. Then they can put on their production of “Lombardi.” We, the Mothership if you will, benefit from that. We personally are exploring other opportunities in Green Bay and other parts of Wisconsin.

    Q: Did the show shutter a bit earlier than anticipated?
    Ponturo: I think most people were very pleasantly surprised by the length of the run. Eight months for a play is a very good run. Most plays come to Broadway with a limited 12-week, 16-week engagement. So for us to have this open-ended run could be considered aggressive on our part. Fran and I always believed so much in the show, so we probably always felt very confident, but you don’t know until you see the consumer reaction. It’s always sad when it’s the last week -- and Sunday will be somewhat emotional for us -- but we’re very satisfied with the length of the run.
    Kirmser: I’m really excited about this work through Dramatists Play Service, who’s licensing the play, so that people will be able to enjoy it across the country. That’s exciting to us.

    Q: How much did the NFL lockout, and the lack of a honeymoon for the Packers’ Super Bowl win, affect ticket sales?
    Ponturo: I think that clearly there was a lot of enthusiasm, no question, from January to February through the playoffs and the Packers winning the Super Bowl. I think we have to acknowledge that there was probably some challenge, dilution of energy if you will, when the football season was over. And then we have heard -- not to put words in their mouth -- from the NFL that their other entities have been down a little bit, which you could argue is the fan saying, “We’ll come back to you when you’ve settled your issues.” I think the answer to your question is yes, there was some effect.

    Q: “Lombardi” was the only drama to debut on Broadway in the fall and survive the winter. Did the unusually bad weather in Manhattan play a role?
    Kirmser: We had a really good winter at “Lombardi.” We did see that when the weather got a little warmer, we got more walkup traffic. One can also argue that as the weather gets gorgeous, people don’t necessarily want to go to the theater. But we had a very strong winter. We had some significant storms, and people came.

    Q: If you could go back eight months, 12 months, what would you have done differently?
    Ponturo: We’ve talked about it, and I think the only thing -- it’s nothing we could control -- is that people did not know what to expect from a play on Broadway that had a strong sports theme called “Lombardi.” You can’t do anything ahead of time, really, to break down that perception until you get them into the theater and let them see the show. What will help, as we develop “Magic/Bird,” we now have people that said, “OK, now I get this genre that you are developing…
    Kirmser: … And we’re excited to see the next one.” We’ve heard that from writers, which was definitely not what we heard walking into “Lombardi.”

    Q: What’s the timing for “Magic/Bird?”
    Kirmser: We’re looking to open in the spring of 2012.

    Q: You’re pretty confident there’s room for a sports play on Broadway. What’s the future of this genre?
    Ponturo: The theater experience and the sports experience, to some degrees, are similar. Every game has a story that’s being told. What’s the outcome of the game? What did the players do? Was there anything dramatic? Was there a turning point? Was there adversity? Was there agony? Was there joy? Was there laughter? That’s all in one game. And that’s what a well-written play does in theater; it brings all those emotions in. And they’re both live. We think there’s a real natural fit.

    Q: How much do you depend on the demographic of sports fans who’ve never stepped foot in a theater?
    Kirmser: We really look at it as equal parts. We look at it as we need to satisfy the theater audience, and we need to engage and satisfy the sports fan. In the end, we felt that we had a half-half experience walking in and enjoying the show. And we went out of the gate looking to cultivate that.  

    Q: Tony, what was the biggest eye opener about being a Broadway producer?
    Ponturo: It’s sort of obvious in many respects, but that it’s like anything else you’re building from scratch. It’s a lot of hard work. It’s a lot of dedication, a lot of commitment. Like anything in life, and what we loved about the story of “Lombardi,” it comes with a determination to do things right. You need everyone to really be collaborative and get on the same page. We started with two people, and we ended up with maybe 75 people ultimately touching the show one way or the other. It’s more than just saying, “Hey, I’m a Broadway producer” and sitting in a big leather chair and smoking a cigar. Fran and I were at the theater, I don’t know, 70% of the time, touching the show. It’s the hard work, the commitment and the attention to detail -- which is obvious for any successful thing -- that are clearly an important part to being successful on Broadway.

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