There’s a great story in the friendship and rivalry between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, players who dominated basketball in the 1980s.
Unfortunately it is not found on the stage in “Magic/Bird” at the Longacre Theater.
The leads are good: Kevin Daniels (“Twelfth Night” on Broadway, “Modern Family” on TV) as Earvin “Magic” Johnson, and Tug Coker (“The Office,” “How I Met Your Mother”) in his Broadway debut as Larry Bird.
There are a couple of inspired moments: the actors are announced the way players are on a court. But that’s just not enough.
Both are good guys, the charismatic Johnson and the laconic Bird. Both are high-school and college stars, and when Johnson goes to the Los Angeles Lakers and Bird to the Boston Celtics, they revitalize their teams and basketball.
Now if only that had happened on stage.
Relying on footage of games projected onto screens, other actors playing multiple roles and a sparse set, the play never goes beyond the bare facts, which are interesting but not enough to sustain a play.
What it needs is a script, my theater mate says. Yes, scripts are helpful.
There is something cynical about “Magic/Bird.” It feels as if producers are trying to tap the audience that went to last season’s much better “Lombardi,” about the legendary football coach. Indeed a check of Playbill shows the same producers are behind both shows. The difference is “Lombardi” had fully drawn characters and a plot.
It also seems to have the attitude that perhaps some women could lure their theater-hating/sports-loving men to a Broadway show if it is about sports. And that could well be true, but you need more than one running gag about Bryant Gumbel with a high voice and one good scene of the two players at Bird’s family home in French Lick, Ind., to draw in an audience — regardless of whether they’re basketball fans.