History Theatre coaches up 'Lombardi'

James Detmar as Vince Lombardi.
James Detmar as Vince Lombardi.
Photo by Scott Pakudaitis
Artistic director Ron Peluso thinks the History Theatre's fall offering will expand its audience into new territory, and it is something he has seen first hand.

"The saw the show out in New York. Every Christmas, my family has a get together. My sister and brother-in-law are not theater people at all. I was looking for a show that they would go see. They know sports. I took them to Lombardi. My sister just loved the play," Peluso says. "I thought, 'This is a Midwestern story with Green Bay. A real story about real people.' I think it is a perfect match for the History Theatre."

The piece traces the life of the legendary football coach on and off the field, including his glory days with the Green Bay Packers and his relationships with his wife, family, and players.

"When I saw the play it was a flashback to my youth," says Peluso, who played sports as a youngster. "This is how we were supposed to play. When I saw the play, I identified with the family side and the sports side."

James Detmar plays the famed coach. It's a particular thrill for the actor, who grew up in Wisconsin and is a lifelong Packers fan.

"I was a jock in high school. I wanted to play college ball, but they told me that I wasn't big enough or fast enough," Detmar says.

Lombardi was undersized as a player himself, but used his fierce competitiveness and determination to play in the NFL, following it up with a coaching career. "He was driven to get his players to the best place to win. I really appreciate that. You can't predict the outcome, but you can predict how your players will react in the moment," Detmar says.

"There is this public persona of Lombardi. Once you do the research and find out more about his background, there is such a depth there. You have to mine that depth," Detmar says.

Along with his tough, no-nonsense demeanor, Lombardi was a fierce defender of his players. "He was one of the first coaches to deal with racism head on. If the black players couldn't stay at a hotel, the white players wouldn't stay there either," Detmar says.

"We want to play homage to him without it being a 10-cent suit version of him. I rely on Ron and my fellow cast members for that. So far it has been great," Detmar says.

"He influenced all these other teachers and coaches with a stick-to-it-ness that you take with you beyond the football field. It's a cliché that there is a lot wrong with professional and collegiate sports, but there is a lot that comes from discipline and working in a team," Peluso says.

The play is about more than football. "The audience will respond to his relationship with Marie [his wife]," Peluso says.

And there's that audience to think about. "Plays like these expand the theater base. Lombardi will open eyes to people. This is good for theater. And it's an opportunity to drag a husband to something that is not My Fair Lady," Peluso says.

History Theatre
30 E. 10th St., St. Paul
Saturday through November 4
For information, call 651.292.4323 or visit online
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History Theatre

30 E. 10th St.
St. Paul, MN 55101


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