When word spread that Bryan Cranston, star of the newly-ended Breaking Bad, was going to be appearing on Broadway in a limited-engagement run as President Lyndon Baines Johnson, I knew this could be very good. Johnson was one of our more enigmatic and interesting presidents; if anyone could give a new depth and perspective to him, it would be the acting talents of Mr. Cranston. Being that the play, All The Way was only going to be starring Mr. Cranston until June, I was happily surprised to find that I was able to get two perfect orchestra seats for a Saturday night performance.
Whatever hype and buzz surrounding this play is justified and then some. In a word, it was a brilliant portrait of a man – a President – who I still can’t make my mind up about: was he a hero or was he a predictably self-serving villain? It doesn’t matter – Mr. Cranston’s portrayal of L.B.J. was just right; a mixture of countrified dry humor, presidential egomania and good-old political paranoia. His delivery of some of L.B.J.’s bluster was on the mark as was the sympathetic nature of L.B.J.’s having to deal with apathetic political foes. Mr. Cranston conveyed the emotion necessary for the audience (well, me) to actually feel for the character. From the moment the lights went up to reveal Mr. Cranston on stage in the presidential chair, I was immediately drawn in.
Set prior to the elections of 1964, it’s a glimpse at how the government dragged their heels on the rapidly-rising Civil Rights movement; the murder of three civil rights workers in Mississippi; Martin Luther King, an (unseen) opponent such as Barry Goldwater and his own cabinet – J. Edgar Hoover, notwithstanding. Three hours of dynamics, that went back and forth and at no point dragged. Full praise to Mr. Cranston and to Michael McKean for a particularly smarmy and duplicitous J. Edgar Hoover; William Jackson Harper was particularly powerful and gripping as Stokely Carmichael and Robert Petkoff as Senator Hubert Humphrey, L.B.J.’s eventual running mate and seemingly favorite whipping boy was riveting to watch as the character was manipulated from all sides.
Robert Schenkkan’s script and Bill Rauch’s direction are simply award-worthy as is the entire cast. A experience worth every moment.