opposite of today's question, marvelling at the fervor and accoutrement of fans of the gridiron, and wondering how it would be if fans of Broadway had that kind of stuff and passion. Little did I know, that less than a week later, I'd find out the answer to the very opposite of my question!
Yes, this past Sunday afternoon, a series of very serendipitous events conspired to find me in the very front row - a floor seat the ticket says - at the Circle in the Square Theatre for a performance of Lombardi (Read yesterday's review to see what I thought of the show). It was a half hour until curtain when I arrived and joined the excited (an much louder than usual) crowd lined up to get tickets scanned and take the escalator down to the theatre in the round. As I descended, I began to notice that the entire lobby was decorated much like a museum exhibit. Giant, iconic photographs of the subject, Vince Lombardi, adorned several walls and the enormous pillars that hold the building up. Along the walls going down with the escalator were large quotes spoken by the man, each football-specific and pointedly universal. Someone had done their homework, I thought.
As I turned to face the room after getting off the moving stairs, there was an electricity in the room that one very rarely feels outside a Broadway show. And I don't think it was all because the lobby had been transformed into an actual museum exhibit, courtesy of the National Football League! It struck me at that very moment that this audience was unlike any other I had ever been in. Men, dozens, hundreds, outnumbering the women probably 3 to 1, and every one of them grinning madly, and letting out squeals (yes, squeals) of delight as they discovered treasure after treasure - real 1960's Green Bay Packers uniforms, photos of long ago heroes, and the centerpiece of all the commotion: the ACTUAL Lombardi Trophy that the winners of the Super Bowl receive, along with an actual Super Bowl ring were in display, and these gentlemen couldn't have been more excited and honored to be in its presence. Each took turns being photographed with the trophy. It reminded me of the time I saw an actual Tony Award in a glass display case. I said the same things these guys were saying: "Can you believe that that is the actual trophy?" "Wow! It looks so much bigger on TV!" "It may be small, but that's the f'ing Lombardi Trophy!"
It was then that it hit me. Like a ton of bricks. Football fans and Broadway fans ARE like each other. One man's Super Bowl ring is another's collectible Opening Night Playbill. One man's old-school football jersey - wool with satin numbers - is another's "One" hat from A Chorus Line, both valuables carefully stored behind glass. And the sheer reverence for the event is exactly the same as the excited expectation as waiting to see a brand new show for the very first time.
But fate wasn't done with me yet. I entered the theatre behind a group of very excited men, all about my age, each in authentic Green Bay Packers jerseys. And each had the same reaction as they rounded the corner and saw the space for the first time: "Holy shit! It looks just like a freakin' football stadium!" They were right, of course, and I felt just a bit out of my own element. Man, were they excited. And then, as one they became as quite as church mice when the usher asked for their tickets and handed them Playbills ("Here, Joe, take a book, already!"). As it turns out they were in the same "end zone" as me, but just to my left, so that I could see them staring, pointing things out, and looking just a bit unsure. It was pretty clear that these guys, like many in the theatre that afternoon were there at their very first Broadway show.
For about 5 minutes I sat alone in my two seat row, and I took in the various people. Many groups of men sitting together unable to hide both their unsure discomfort and their excitement. There were lots of women, too, talking football AND theatre etiquette, clearly enjoying this rare opportunity to share worlds collided. And, perhaps best of all, there were several father/young son pairs - the future of both Broadway and NFL audiences.
Then I was joined by a rather large guy (and I am not exactly tiny), who looked rather uncomfortable and alone. "Um, I think that is my seat." "Sure, let me get up." I stood and we both laughed. How were we going to fit? But we managed. That laugh broke the ice, and the conversation went something like this:
"So..uh... is this your first time at a show?"
"No! I go to shows all the time." I note his look of disappointment, and go on, "but I've never been to one about football before."
Look of relief. "Oh! Man, I go to the games every chance I get, but tickets aren't cheap, you know?"
"I've heard that. Broadway tickets aren't cheap, either."
Laugh, not a chuckle, an outright laugh. "This was $115, right? That's NOTHING compared to a football game." I didn't want to mention that I only paid $79 for mine, because I felt, for the first time ever that maybe Broadway wasn't as elitist as I thought it was!
Then he got quiet and very serious. "I've never been to a play anywhere, ever. I was always the guy in school who made fun of the plays and the drama." Oh God! My worst nightmare - confronting a bully!
"But" he continued "so far this isn't bad. I mean it even looks like a football stadium in here, you know?"
"Um, no, I don't know..." I mumbled, "I've never been to a football game..."
A relieved look then a hearty laugh, "Are you [expletive] me? Man, you gotta try it. Really. I mean here I am trying this. You gotta try a game sometime... not even on TV??"
"No." He shook his head at me as the lights went down.
Being that the show was in the round, I could see the fans watching the play, each giving it such concentration and staring at Dan Lauria as if he really was Vince Lombardi. I could see the relief on their faces when they realized it was funny and they could laugh, and their pride at being able to follow all the football talk. But they also paid rapt attention to Judith Light, and I knew they were, to a person, into the play, when they reacted physically and verbally to a few rotten things Vince said to Marie. The entire cast had them in the palms of their hands.
As the curtain call started, I noticed my companion looking uneasy again. I leaned over and said, "If you liked it applaud, and if you really liked a certain actor go ahead and cheer." He smiled and practically screamed when Keith Nobbs took his bow. Well, I was super impressed with Ms. Light, and stood, as did many of the audience. I looked back, and we exchanged a look that said it was OK for him to stand, too. And he did, again yelling his approval for both leading players and the final company bow.
We were gathering our things, and I asked, "Well? How was your first Broadway show?" "Excellent! I mean it, man. Excellent! I think I'm going to try another one soon. Maybe take my wife. She's at that Wizard of Oz show next door. She loves this stuff. She's right. It is better than the movies!"
I laughed and smiled. Don't you love looking at the newly converted?
And then he said something I will never, ever forget. "So, how about you? When are you going to a game? I went to this. Fair is fair!" I'm not sure if I mumbled something or not, because the next thing I knew my hand was lost in his giant gloved hands as he shook mine, and said a simple, "Thank you." He left as I was still putting on my coat.
As I exited, it was great to see lines of football jersey-ed men lined up at the merch stand buying Lombardi t-shirts. And then it hit me for real: fans are fans, no matter what they love. The same passion, excitement and reverence. And then it really hit me: I am such a theatre snob. Shame on me.
Whoever you are, thank you, sir. You will be on my mind when I go to my first game next year. I promise I will go to one.
Fair is fair, indeed.
(Photos taken by me!)
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