Eric Simonson has found his niche turning some of pop culture's most legendary sports figures into characters for the stage. In 2011 he brought the story of Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi to Broadway in Lombardi, closely followed by his 2012 Broadway production of Magic/Bird, which followed the rise of basketball superstars Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.
Simonson is now tackling the world of baseball with his new play, Bronx Bombers — a Primary Stages production beginning performances at The Duke on 42nd Street on Friday, September 20. TheaterMania sat down with Simonson to talk about his affinity for the theatrical world of sports. He shared his thoughts on what he calls the "great mystery" of the Yankees, his childhood love of sports, and the Google search that confirmed both his expertise and his fandom.
This is the third sports-themed play that you've presented in New York. What is it about that world that you find so appealing?
Growing up, I loved sports. I loved watching football, especially. As I grew up, I realized all the movies that I loved were sports-related. In fact, a couple years ago I tested myself. I [wondered] how many of the top-50 sports films I've seen, so I Googled "Top-50 sports films of all time." I've seen every one of them.
Why did you decide to write about the Yankees this time?
There are a bunch of great characters from Yankee history, so [that was a] place to start. But there's also a mystery. Why do all these great players wind up on the Yankees? What is it about the Yankees that draws people to them? Not just people from New York, but people from all over the world. [It's] the same question I posed with Vince Lombardi. What is it about this guy that draws people to him? It's part of our cultural landscape.
What about the Yankees draws you to them?
I think [it's] their tradition, their history, the fact that each of the characters has a flaw. It's kind of like the Yankees [are] the Mount Olympus of baseball. You have all these statues of gods and each one has a flaw that needs to be corrected. The thing that I love about the Yankees is they represent baseball, and to me, baseball is a really close reflection of who we are as Americans.
Do you think that image is changing? Players today don't seem to have the same divine aura as players years ago like Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio and Lou Gehrig did.
That's because it's now and [we] don't have the perspective. That's actually what the play's about. Twenty years from now, fifty years from now, people are going to be waxing poetic about the four championships in five years between 1997 and 2001. The point is, we [can] feel like baseball's falling apart or the country's falling apart — yet it remains.