When the new play Lombardi opened Oct. 21 on Broadway, Rob Riley ‘03 joined acting veterans Dan Lauria and Judith Light as one of only six actors onstage. His role caps a near meteoric rise for a 30-year-old actor who got his first taste for the stage on South Mountain.
“Rob found his passion for theatre here at Lehigh,” says Gus Ripa, professor of theatre and associate dean for undergraduate studies in the College of Arts and Sciences. “For those of us fortunate enough to witness and assist Rob’s discovery it is no surprise to see him succeed on the biggest stage in the world. The real measure of his success is his sustained commitment to his artistic goals and his ability to do the hard work necessary to achieve them.”
Lombardi is based on the biography When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi by Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Maraniss. The play highlights the life of football Hall of Famer Vince Lombardi, who coached the Green Bay Packers in the 1960s. It explores his life on and off the gridiron—from his iconic and inspirational coaching and teaching style to the challenge of balancing family life as a husband and father.
Riley, who played two years of football at Lehigh, portrays Dave Robinson, a linebacker for the Packers from 1963 to 1972. Robinson was one of countless players whose careers and characters were shaped by Lombardi.
“The more I read about Lombardi and players like Robinson, the more excited I am to be a part of this,” says Riley. “I’ve had coaches and teachers who have cared about me in the way that Lombardi cared about his players. We are all taking a tremendous amount of pride in what we’re doing.”
“Fiercely disciplined and focused”
Riley, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., came to Lehigh to study accounting and play football. He quickly realized that accounting wasn’t his calling. But Lehigh’s academic flexibility, along with professors who recognized his talent, gave him the opportunity to transition into theatre. Riley went on to study theatre in graduate school at Ohio University and made his Broadway debut in the revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof opposite James Earl Jones and Phylicia Rashad.
“From the moment Rob decided to pursue a career in performance, he has been fiercely disciplined and focused. The fact that he’s finding success in New York is due to his significant talent and his unswerving commitment to his goals,” says Pam Pepper, professor and department chair of theatre. “That he has accomplished what he’s accomplished in a relatively short amount of time is impressive by any standard. He is an inspiration.”
Lombardi has been lauded for its ability to marry an unlikely pair: football and theatre. It has drawn considerable attention from the press, filled seats with theatre and Green Bay fans alike, and received a boost from the marketing power of the National Football League.
The play is running at The Circle in the Square Theatre at 50th Street West of Broadway in New York.