Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Broadway Theater Review: All the Way

Bryan Cranston Photo: Evgenia Eliseeva

History Comes to Life and LBJ is Larger Than Life
By Lauren Yarger
Almost three hours about reluctant President Lyndon Baines Johnson breezes by in Robert Schenkkan's play starring a sure-to-be-Tony-nominated Bryan Cranston (TV's "Breaking Bad") in a riveting Broadway debut.

Bill Rauch directs the drama, set just after the assassination of John F. Kennedy and through Johnson's re-election bid. The seats of congress surround the stage (Christopher Acebo, design) and projections behind them (Shawn Sagady, design) change the location of the action. LBJ doesn't want to be president, but he proves himself worthy of the Oval office as he steps up to take on the nation's civil rights battle.

"What's the point of being president if you can't so what's right?" he asks.

He enlists Hubert Humphrey (Robert Petkoff) to help him negotiate with Martin Luther King (Brandon R. Dirden), solicits the support of Washington Post Publisher Katherine Graham (Betsy Aidem, who also plays Lady Bird) and does political battle with a host of contemporary political characters played in multiple roles by a large ensemble cast.

"If you get in my way, I'll crush you," the no-longer second fiddle politician says.

The ensemble includes Eric Lenox Abrams, J. Bernard Calloway, Rob Campbell, Brandon J. Dirden, James Eckhouse, Peter Jay Fernandez, Christopher Gurr, William Jackson Harper, Michael McKean, John McMartin, Christopher Liam Moore, Robert Petkoff, Ethan Phillips, Richard Poe ,Roslyn Ruff, Susannah Schulman, Bill Timoney and Steve Vinovich.

Standing out as the one person LBJ can't manipulate -- and for a solid performance -- is Michael McKean as FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. Also standing out from the crowd, because of his uncanny resemblance to the real governor, is Rob Campbell as George Wallace. Dirden sounds like King and Aidem, with some hair and wig design by Paul Huntley and costuming by Deborah M. Dryden, looks like the first lady.

It's heavy on the male perspective (as 1960s politics was -- and well, the same could be said of 2014 politics, I suppose). Aidem gives Lady Bird dignity, but we don't fully understand why she's OK with his infidelity. King's wife, Coretta (Ruff), also gets to look wounded over her husband's betrayal, but the women stay behind a facade just like real political wives were expected to do in 1964 -- or 2014.

The 2014 audience, following recent stories of Christian bakery owners told by courts they have to make a wedding cake for a gay couple, react to references in the play about state's being left to decide who gets served at cafe counters. Also getting a laugh is the assurance that the FBI has been integrated because two black agents are allowed to drive the director.

A derogatory remark about women, however, got no reaction from the audience. A joke about men referring to unattractive women with no personalities as "nice" got a roar, however. Some things haven't changed.....

Rauch ads some nice touches that kept me from brooding too long, however. Some staging has separate conversations taking place at the same time on stage with seamless continuity as characters step in and out of them. Phone conversations begin on the phone, then somehow become one-on-one conversations. And in perhaps some of the best direction I've seen in a long time, LBJ and MLK start out as opposites, then gravitate toward each other until they are giving practically the same message.

All the Way is a chance to see history come to life and to witness a memorable performance by Cranston that could go down in the history books itself, if he get a Tony nod.

All the Way  plays at  the Neil Simon Theatre, 250 West 52nd St., NYC, until June 29. http://allthewaybroadway.com/.

Christians might also like to know:
-- Sexual dialogue
-- God's name taken in vain

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com. She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle. and the Episcopal Actors' Guild.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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