"We're both still pinching ourselves," Johnson said. "We're blown away by the fact we're going to be on Broadway. Who would have ever imagined the two of us would have a play on Broadway?"
Until recently, perhaps no one. Then came the success of "Lombardi," which ran for eight months beginning in the fall of 2010 despite the long-held notion that fans of theater and of sports rarely tread on one another's turf.
Now the producers of that show, Tony Ponturo and Fran Kirmser, are back at it with "Magic/Bird," which affords the bonus of two main characters who are very much alive and plan to be at opening night April 11. (Previews begin March 21 at the Longacre Theater.)
"Clearly, 'Lombardi' helped pave the way that there was an audience for sports storytelling in the theater," Ponturo said.
It also helped convince Johnson, who attended an early performance.
"Because Tony and Fran did such a wonderful job on the Lombardi play, we felt they could do the same thing with our play," Johnson said. "I think that's probably the only reason we're doing it."
Tug Coker and Kevin Daniels, each of whom is 6-5, portray Bird and Johnson, each of whom is 6-9. "He's tall, so that's good," Johnson said of Daniels. "He has a big smile, like myself, so that's good."
Bird and Johnson have met the actors and approved the script, which covers roughly the period from 1979 through '92. They also have a financial stake in the production. "The very smart thing we did do is go directly to them," Ponturo said. "We knew it was important we go to the two human beings."
That was a luxury they did not have with Vince Lombardi, who died in 1970. The show hopes to benefit from the players' insights. But for both the actors and the men they are trying to capture, having the genuine article in the audience is an unusual dynamic.
"This is the first time I'm aware of where someone else is portraying them, and that's sort of different," Ponturo said. "I think it's captured their imagination."