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'All the Way' is an entertaining history lesson

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All the Way


For all the cast of twenty-four actors, Robert Schenkkan’s biography play about Lyndon Johnson, All the Way, feels like a one man show for Bryan Cranston. Mr. Cranston keeps to center stage for the most part as one character after another walks forward to interact when required, but otherwise Mr. Cranston is holding court, chewing the scenery and delivering a mammoth performance. As entertaining as he is, Mr. Cranston’s impression of the late Vice President, who found himself suddenly in the position of Chief Executive when J.F.K was assassinated, registers as a bit of a caricature. By comparison, absolutely everyone else in the show, including Betsy Aidem as Lady Bird Johnson and J. Bernard Calloway as Martin Luther King, Jr., seems perfectly real and natural.

Bill Rauch has directed the story concerning Johnson’s first year as president, which focuses on the passing of the civil rights bill. The comparison to Stephen Spielberg’s film, Lincoln, is natural for history seems to be repeating itself here. Although Mr. Cranston is very much running the show, the really interesting thing that Schenkkan depicts is the lunacy of our American politics. One wonders if it is so easy for the playwrights and filmmakers to show our government for the inconsistent, blinded, cruel thing that it can be, why isn’t it possible for Washington D.C. to get its act together and do the right thing without compromising a bill into oblivion? Here’s another play to prove that an age old problem might be impossible to solve, for it should be noted that plays about political history always register in revivals, even when the history is long past. You can look at Gore Vidal’s The Best Man or even the Gershwins’ Of Thee I Sing and find that all the political commentary still holds true.

A remarkable thing about All the Way, just in terms of contemporary Broadway economics, is the size of it. Big cast non-musical plays like this left us back in the 1930s and only show up as revivals with institutional theaters like Roundabout and Lincoln Center. The producers of All the Way must have a great deal of confidence in Bryan Cranston’s celebrity from TV’s “Breaking Bad” as well as numerous other TV and film roles to pull in the audience. Lucky for the show, Mr. Cranston is proving to be a good insurance policy. Not only that, but the play depicts a fascinating year in the history of this country and so it is worth spending an evening with Lyndon Johnson, both for the entertainment value as well as the history lesson.

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