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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Theater is part of Green Bay Packers’ legacy

At least five plays are part of the team’s lore and allure.

PHOTO: “Packer Fans from Outer Space” is among the plays featuring the Green Bay Packers. American Folklore Theatre photo

GREEN BAY, Wis., (WFRV) – The Green Bay Packers are legendary in many ways, including on stage. They have an ample number of plays about them, and productions are put on well beyond Packerland. The number is too small to be considered a phenomenon, yet large enough to be more than a mere asterisk.

And some of the plays just don’t go away.

Here’s the list:

- “Guys on Ice”

- “I Am Not a Legend: The Story of Coach Vince Lombardi”

- “Lombardi”

- “Packer Fans from Outer Space”

­- “The Life and Times of Vince Lombardi”

All of these plays have been performed in the Green Bay area and at locations throughout the extended Packerland of Wisconsin. That’s expected.

But here’s the rub about them: All have been put on in places far beyond the borders of Wisconsin. Some continue to be part of theater company seasons. The Packers thing that is so familiar to the populace in Wisconsin holds a fascination in other places, and the plays help fuel that.

Do other teams have such a thing going? Look around, and the answer is no.

Each show has an individual life. Here is an overview:

“Guys on Ice” is a musical set in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, that focuses on ice-fishing buddies. While not directly about the Packers, the show has an important element in that the characters are devoted Packers fans. The show taps into the phenomenon when one main character’s wife is upset at him because he wants to spend their anniversary at a Packers-Bears game at Lambeau Field. This show has been around since 1998. It was conceived and researched by Fred Alley and Frederick Heide. Alley (book and lyrics) teamed with James Kaplan (music) to write the comical show. Kaplan maintains a website that tells of coming productions. The list includes productions starting Friday, Dec. 6, by Greater Lewisville Community Theatre in Lewisville, Texas; Dec. 13 by The Aurora Fox in Aurora, Colorado; Feb. 13 by Albert Lea Community Theatre in Albert Lea, Minnesota; Feb. 14 by Tawas Bay Players in Tawas City, Michigan, among productions in four Wisconsin cities. Of special note, “Guys on Ice” will be put on next summer as part of the season of American Folklore Theatre in Door County. American Folklore Theatre is the original production company.

“I Am Not a Legend: The Story of Coach Vince Lombardi” is a drama that was written in 1981 by Canadians Gordon Carruth and Bob Knuckle. After an early burst that included performances in Toronto, the play mostly lay dormant until it surfaced again in 2012 when the Kettle Moraine Players community theater troupe brought it to life for performances in Wisconsin. Included was a run at St. Norbert College in De Pere, site of Packers training camps. The play imagines conversations and what-might-have-been situations. The future is less certain for this play than for the others. No future productions can be found on the Internet.

“Lombardi” is a drama based on the book by David Maraniss, “When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi.” This is the play that ran on Broadway, successfully, for more than eight months. Written by Eric Simonson, like Maraniss a Wisconsin native, the play imagines a sportswriter having access to the home life of Vince and Marie Lombardi amid a winning Packers season. Individual productions have continued since the Broadway play closed in May 2011. Wisconsin productions included those of the professional Peninsula Players Theatre in Door County and Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, along with Box in the Wood Theatre Guild community theater of Shawano. Earlier this year, “Lombardi” was put on in New Orleans (at a place with a catchy name, Le Petit Théâtre du Vieux Carré), Dayton, Ohio; Westport, N.Y.; and Warwick, R.I. Among coming performances of “Lombardi” is a run at Aurora Theatre in Lawrenceville, Georgia. Different actors are playing Lombardi in these productions. In a sense, there are a lot of Vince Lombardis because of the play.

“Packer Fans from Outer Space” is a written by Frederick Heide and Lee Becker, with music by Frederick Heide and additional music by James Kaplan. Produced in 2002 by American Folklore Theatre, the show imagines the Packers existing in parallel universes. The show toured a bit early on and has had other productions, notably one in Milwaukee in 2012. The news is “Packer Fans from Outer Space” will return to American Folklore Theatre for the 2014 summer season.

“The Life and Times of Vince Lombardi” is a one-man drama with comedy written by John Pinero and Richard Clayman, who directs. Pinero has been playing Lombardi and a multitude of characters (Packers greats, Lombardi’s mother, etc.) in this play since 1996. Pinero, who lives in California, has consistently come to Wisconsin for performances and appearances in the persona of Lombardi, including at Lambeau Field. Additionally, Pinero makes motivational speech appearances in the persona of Lombardi and has done so in Canada, Australia and Sweden. Among recent performances of “The Life and Times of Vince Lombardi” was a return visit to St. Norbert College in September. Among coming performances are runs in January at Yavapai College in Prescott, Arizona, and in May in Shreveport, Louisiana. You can expect Pinero to return to this area again with his play. Pinero is engaging, in part because of all the stories he can tell from his 17 years of essentially being Lombardi. Here’s one of his colorful ones about the Broadway “Lombardi,” in which Dan Lauria of TV’s “The Wonder Years” played the coach. Pinero, in an interview with me: “The irony of it is Dan Lauria and I have known each other for years. Both of us are from Brooklyn (as was Lombardi). On top of that, we moved out to Hollywood together. We were living in the same house on Wilton Place, 1750 Wilton Place. And he ends up playing Lombardi. The irony is that I’ve been playing it for years.”

You may email me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air features on WFRV at 6:45 p.m. Thursdays and every other Sunday between 6 and 8 a.m. (usually around 7:45 a.m.)

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