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"All the Way" Takes Us Way Back to 1964
All the Way
Directed by Bill Rauch
Neil Simon Theatre
250 West 52 Street
Opened March 6, 2014
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons March 13, 2014
In the 1964 presidential campaign, the phrase, "All the way" was followed by "with LBJ." Now that "All the Way" has become the title of a new drama by Robert Schenkkan, the phrase has become associated with an insightful and engrossing play about those pivotal times.
Directed by Bill Rauch, the show stars Bryan Cranston of "Breaking Bad" fame, making his Broadway debut. And what a debut! Cranston not only looks a great deal like LBJ and has perfectly caught that Texas drawl, he has also channeled all the contradictory qualities that made LBJ larger than life.
As LBJ pushes Civil Rights legislation through Congress, we see him cajoling his old friend, Senator Richard Russell from Georgia (John McMartin), circling the wagons set up by Martin Luther King, Jr. (Brandon J. Dirden), bullying Senator Hubert Humphrey (Robert Petkoff), abusing his loving wife Lady Bird (Betsy Aidem) and submitting, when absolutely necessary, to J. Edgar Hoover (Michael McKean). His earthy, often off-color humor is ever-present, except for those occasional moments of self-pity.
Despite a huge cast of almost two dozen, there is considerable doubling up of roles in "All the Way." This is due to the huge scope of the play, which also includes Alabama governor George Wallace ((Rob Campbell) and his wife Lurleen (Susannah Schulman), Robert McNamara (James Eckhouse), Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina (Christopher Gurr), Stokely Carmichael (William Jackson Harper) and the unfortunate Walter Jenkins (Christopher Liam More), top aide to LBJ, among others.
Despite it's historical nature, "All the Way" never seems like a documentary. And although we all know (or should know) the outcome, it doesn't lack for suspense. This is thanks to the excellent performances of the actors (who make each character totally distinct, even when they play several parts), as well as the seamless way Rauch moves the play from scene to scene.
Rauch also makes effective use of video (not the real stuff, but fabrications to add a realistic element to the drama) and the entire theater, having actors parade down the aisle during the Democratic convention and call out from the gallery seats during moments of public protest.
There are excellent performances by McMartin, Moore, Petkoff and Harper, but this is still Cranston's show, just as the era belonged to LBJ. Hail to the chief!
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