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How Does Basketball Translate on Broadway?

It was widely unknown how audiences would respond to the new Broadway show Magic/Bird that opened on Wednesday at The Longacre Theatre and it’s still safe to say that it’s unknown how audiences will respond. According to the mixed reviews the show has received, it all depends on what you’re looking for, and what you’re hoping to get out of the show.

If you really just want to see the story of legends Magic Johnson and Larry Bird play out on stage, you’re in luck. The performance is full of actual clips of the two playing each other, and outlines how they started as rivals who always needed to be better and faster than the others; and shows how they transformed into very, very good friends. This moment is most poignant both at the beginning, as we see Magic tell Larry over the phone that he’s been diagnosed with HIV, up until the very end when the two embrace after going through so much together.

If on the other hand, you’re looking for a great theatrical performance, you might wish that you had opted for a different show. Kevin Daniels does a great job portraying Magic Johnson in all his charisma and charm; while Tug Coker does an equally impressive job showing Larry Bird as a regular Midwestern guy that really just wants to play basketball, lights and cameras aside. Dierdre O’Connell, Peter Scolari, Francois Battiste, and Robert Manning all make up a great supportive cast as well, but the fact that they’re playing 20 characters shows through at moments, with no real depth shown in any one character.

What also lacked depth were the issues of racism and athlete exploitation that were brought to the forefront of the issues at the time, yet were barely touched on during the performance. And the basketball footage? While interesting and good to see, the overall effect is really just one of sitting in a theater watching basketball footage.

Considering that sports is a very difficult thing to bring to Broadway, director Thomas Kail and playwright Eric Simonson do have a lot to take pride in. They revisited one of the most memorable times in the NBA, and portrayed it in a way that is true to life and if nothing else, heartwarming to see.

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