A Review of Magic/Bird

Thursday night, I went to see the Broadway play Magic/Bird, chronicling the rivalry and friendship of basketball legends Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, and I was pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable it was. The evening started with a haphazard celebrity sighting outside the Longacre Theater where Snoop Dogg just happened to be walking by, and the night ended with a great "NBA Talkback" -- a Q&A with the audience and some "Legends of Basketball."  I was expecting the show itself to be a standard fluff piece, but it was loaded with some nice performances and dramatic staging.

The presentation of the true story is full of marvelous moments as Magic and Bird lead the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics to glory and face each other for some memorable championships. Kevin Daniels does an excellent job of capturing Johnson's iconic smile and his Hollywood-ready personality. He gives a very touching performance, especially after his HIV revelation as he finds himself being abandoned by some people he thought were his friends. At first, it was hard to connect with Tug Coker because of the introverted character of Bird, but that eventually made his displays of emotion all the more powerful, such as when he has to deal with his back injury, when he reminisces about his dad's work ethic, and especially when he reacts to the news of Magic's virus.

The supporting cast is superb, playing multiple roles. Highlights include Dierdre O'Connell as Bird's mom,  Robert Manning Jr. as Michael Cooper, and Francois Battiste making the audience repeatedly crack up laughing with his high-pitched voice portrayal of Bryant Gumbel. Peter Scolari (who has done a bunch of great acting since his days alongside Tom Hanks in Bosom Buddies) is a chameleon, donning a number of great character parts, including Pat Riley, Red Auerbach, Jerry Buss, and Bob Woolf. A couple of the best scenes in the play take place in a Boston bar with Scolari as Tommy, a diehard Celtics fan -- I wouldn't have minded seeing an entire play about him and his interaction with Lakers fan Willy, played brilliantly by Battiste.

Whether you are a basketball fan or not, whether you remember watching Larry Bird and Magic Johnson compete against each other or not, if you're looking for an interesting little play about two athletes whose lives cross paths as they follow their dreams to be the best, give Magic/Bird a shot.