Tug Coker, as Bird, left, and Kevin Daniels, as "Magic."...

Tug Coker, as Bird, left, and Kevin Daniels, as "Magic." (Joan Marcus) Credit: Tug Coker, as Bird, left, and Kevin Daniels, as "Magic." (Joan Marcus)

Magic/Bird
2 stars

The well-known and very intriguing friendship between basketball icons Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, which was previously explored in the documentary film "Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals," makes for a polite but sanitized and altogether lifeless stage drama in "Magic/Bird."

The play is the product of the same creative team behind last season's sports drama "Lombardi," including director Thomas Kail ("In the Heights") and playwright Eric Simonson.

Based on Simonson's conversations with Johnson and Bird, the six-character play begins with the 1979 NCAA title game where Johnson (Kevin Daniels) and Bird (Tug Coker) first squared off, explores their subsequent NBA careers (Johnson on the Lakers, Bird on the Celtics), and ends with Johnson revealing to the press that he has HIV and both men playing on the 1992 Olympic Dream Team.

Kail's visually attractive production is marked by a giant LED screen, which allows archival video clips of the real Johnson and Bird to be incorporated, and a revolving basketball hoop. Except for some layups and dribbling, however, little basketball is actually played onstage.

The problem with "Magic/Bird," which is composed primarily of very short scenes, is that no conflict ever develops between the glitzy Johnson and the quiet Bird, who remain painfully polite and respectful to each other. The uneventful play ultimately resembles an audiovisual presentation of a Wikipedia article.

Bird is presented as utterly dull. Even if that's how he is in real life, it makes for a very strange and uninteresting character. The more lively and dynamic Johnson also lacks dimension despite some confessional moments.


If you go: "Magic/Bird" plays an open run at the Longacre Theatre, 220 W. 48th St., 212-239-6200, magicbirdbroadway.com.

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