I have to confess, I am not a big sports fan. Despite my 6ft, brown frame, I have absolutely no game! I do love theater and the performing and visual arts. However, in my narrow perception, shaped by stereotypical male machismo, I find it hard to envision how the two can co-exist in the same world, let alone on stage.
That is why when I heard producer Fran Kirmser and Tony Ponturo, who brought the sports-infused Lombardi to the great white way, were mounting Magic/Bird – a play based on Los Angeles Laker legend Irvin “Magic” Johnson and Boston Celtic’s great Larry Bird – as a full fledge, theatrical production, I was in no hurry to attend.
One reason why the Magic/Bird production didn’t make my “to do” list was the preconceived discomfort of spending an evening listening to countless sports stats and rehashed game analysis. Although director Thomas Kail didn’t disappoint the die-hard fans seeking such nostalgic, historic data, such facts were perfectly blinded into an incredibly, heartwarming story of trust and friendship.
In actor Kevin Daniel’s Magic we find the charismatic, well-mannered ball player from Lansing, MI on the verge of making the leap from college ball to prime time NBA player. The stage is set for this good nature Midwesterner’s star to shine in the bright lights of Hollywood as he accepts his calling as an official Los Angeles Laker. However, his dream of being the highest paid NBA player is shattered by another draft pick, Larry Bird.
Daniel, like the legend he plays, exudes charisma, charm and magnetism while perfecting Magic’s 1,000 watt smile. He’s the epitome of grace under fire standing tall when all the chips are down, never bowing to fear, anger or frustration and most importantly, remaining respectful and humbled to all he encounters. Even when the bright lights that heralded him attempt to crucify him; Daniel’s Magic faces the storm with amazing grace.
In actor Tug Coker’s Bird we find the reclusive, perfectionistic, mild-manner power-forward at a crossroad. Although humbled by his fortune yet haunted by his fame, Coker uses dry humor, determination and a constant drive for excellence to validate and highlight Bird’s many accomplishments. Coker’s Bird, who upholds the utmost respect and hidden adoration for Magic, is determined to outperform his nemeses at all cost. However, those plans capsize during a commercial shoot at Bird’s estate in French Lick, IN. It is in this serene setting that the two NBA all-stars drop their guard, discover their similarities and forge one of basketball’s most treasured friendships.
Supporting cast includes Robert Manning, Jr., Francois Battiste, Peter Scolari, and Deirdre O’Connell, who multi tasks as the only female cast member. O’Connell, although challenged with playing a variety of supportive, diverse roles, effortlessly delivers transforming from a brassy, Boston bar maid, domineering mid-western mom, supportive wife, and aggressive sports reporter right before your eyes. Francois Battiste adds comic relief in his portrayal of sports legend Bryant Gumbel, depth and insight as Byron Scott and Ron Baxter and much needed, gut-busting humor as Willy the die-hard Laker fan from Boston.
With simplistic and creatively-convertible staging and props, the multimedia enhanced Magic/Bird rises to incredible heights casting a spell on all in attendance. The vintage footage revisits the thrill of the game and the super-imposed charts, and graphics captures its intellect and strategy. Viewers are swept away in a moment in history that defied sports rivalry and epitomized team fanaticism. Magic/Bird unravels the mystery and awkward reticence of male bonding while exposing the beauty of friendship.
Keith L. Forest is a freelance publicist, writer and proud Bedford-Stuyvesant home owner who lives and works in the beloved community. His current blog space mybedstuy.blogspot.com seeks to celebrate the people and places that make up this great community while addressing issues such as gentrification, predatory lending and other ill norms that seek to exploit, discredit and harm the area and its people.