I had the opportunity to see Magic/Bird on Broadway last week and I’m still shaking my head a little.
I’m not even shaking my head at the show so much which I like just a tiny bit more than I thought I would or knew I should (though I will be the first to admit that I am a sucker for much of what was enjoyable about the show, even as I recognize that “liking” something means very little to any project’s artistic aspirations, had artistic aspirations rated highly enough to have even been given a schwag bag at this particular party).
I’m not against popular entertainments. I’m a sports fan, for god’s sake. And I’m not entirely against empty popular entertainments. I’m a Cleveland sports fan, for god’s sake. But there does seem to be some back-patting on the part of the show’s producers about how they are attracting “non-traditional” fans to the theater.
Now, I will admit that the crowd at the show I saw was hands-down the most diverse crowd I’ve ever seen at a play. But, those people who will go see Magic/Bird will very likely not rush out to see Venus In Fur the following weekend because – you know, that theater thing’s got something interesting going on.
These “new theater goers” then are little more than dollar signs invented by the producers. They have figured out a way to get people to the theater who wouldn’t normally go – but they are not people who will likely go back – and the people who would normally go don’t really see the point in this project so they won’t go … and it’s a whole cycle that they hope can be sustained just long enough to justify itself.
So, good for the producers of Magic/Bird for figuring out a way to (possibly) make money. Good work. But let’s call it that. Let’s not call it theater.
Theater as we know, is about figuring out a way to (probably) lose money.
But my review of the actual play goes something like this…
If you are a fan—whether a fan of good theater or a sports fan—it’s probably not a stretch to assume that you already have some opinion of the new Broadway play Magic/Bird. If you’re a theater fan, you might be scratching your head over how the story of two basketball players who played for different teams during the 1980s—two players who, in fact, only played each other twice a year, save for the three times their teams met in the NBA Finals—and produced, in part, by the very same professional sports league that once employed them, could ever make for satisfying theater. If you’re a sports fan—or, perhaps, a theater fan who loves one—you might see it differently: a light but predictably satisfying entertainment centered around the two players most often credited with saving professional basketball in the 1980s, whose rivalry became the storyline for a decade’s worth of NBA seasons, and who took on the type of mythic stature you’d expect from guys with nicknames like “Magic” and “Legend,” even as their story’s most lasting legacy is the effect on the American public when faced with the very real mortality of one of their most recognizable icons. Luckily, both of these opinions of Magic/Bird turn out to be correct.