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Legendary 'LOMBARDI' comes to life on stage

Theater group open new season with story about football coach

POSTED: August 15, 2013 1:00 a.m.

During the transition from post-World War II glory to the technological age, the 1960s saw a glowing figure among an underdog team called the Green Bay Packers. His name was Vince Lombardi.

The Gainesville Theatre Alliance Southern Stage’s opening performance of the season, “LOMBARDI,” aims to capture not just Lombardi the football coaching legend, but Lombardi the ordinary man on an extraordinary sports stage.

Tickets are $18 to 20 for adults, $16 to 18 for seniors and $12 to 14 for students and children depending on seat location. Box seats are available for $30 and $40 a ticket.

The play is based on the book “When Pride Still Mattered — Lombardi,” written by David Maraniss. It is a profile and view of Lombardi through the eyes of his wife and players.

The narration starts when a young magazine reporter interviews Lombardi, and follows his life and the people that surround him from there.

Jim Hammond, the artistic managing director for the Gainesville Theatre Alliance, said the group chose to perform this play as their first performance of the season for many reasons.

“One, (it was) because the timing seemed absolutely perfect in terms of the kind of fever-pitched excitement as we approach a new football season,” he said.

Hammond, an Atlanta Falcons football fan, said the subject matter relates to his team and anticipation for the upcoming sports season.

“And it just made sense that before we fight for the trophy this year, we honor the man (who) the trophy’s named for, which is Vince Lombardi,” he said.

“It’s also a brilliant play, and it’s a new play.”

The lead actor who portrays Lombardi is John Woodson. He and his wife, Monica Bell, who plays the supporting role of Marie Lombardi, have performed Broadway plays. Woodson has been performing and directing for more than 30 years. Hammond said the highly credited actor is a dead ringer for Lombardi himself, which makes the play more exciting for everyone.

“If we do our job — and I think we are — what’s going to happen is the audience is going to come in, and there’s a video package that kind of introduces the era. And then, all of a sudden, Lombardi winds up on stage and lights pop up on him,” he said.

“I think within the first five minutes, audiences are going to suspend their disbelief, and we’re going to feel like we’re in the presence of the man.”

The two leads, a husband-and-wife duo, don’t just bring experience to the stage, but a natural chemistry aiding them, Hammond said.

“They are both professional actors with Broadway credits and just an extraordinary 25-year resume of doing some of the finest plays in some of the finest theaters all over the country,” he said. “John and Monica are a dynamic couple in real life, and on stage they are just spell binding.”

Future plays in the season will include “Guys and Dolls,” “Chicago,” “Sense and Sensibility,” and a special performance of “Alice in Wonderland” by a theater group for children called WonderQuest.

“We’re wanting to appeal to a broad and diverse audience, so we’re trying to put a lot of different things on this season,” he said.

“In many ways, it’s kind of like having a restaurant. And you’re not just going to have appetizers or entrees or desserts, but you’re trying to put together an entire meal that will have variety and interest for everyone.”

The excitement has not been reserved for opening night. GTA received such a tremendous local response over the debut of this play, the running dates were extended, said Beth Kendall, marketing manager for GTA.

“We extended the run because we had gotten over 50 percent of all of the seats for the first two weeks sold, and our experience is, if we’re (selling that many tickets) more than a week before the play opens, we know that we’re going to be able to accommodate a lot more patrons,” Kendall said.


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