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Review Roundup: ‘All the Way’

All the Way, the political drama by Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Schenkkan (The Kentucky Cycle) opened on March 6 at the Neil Simon Theatre. Most critics gave an aye vote to the play which covers the first year in office of President Lyndon B. Johnson from the assassination of John Kennedy to the struggle to pass civil rights legislation to the contentious 1964 election against Barry Goldwater. Emmy winner Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) received an overwhelming vote of confidence for his Broadway debut as Johnson. “Scintillating,” “terrific,” and “one of the highlights of the Broadway season” are just a few of the phrases used the describe Cranston’s performance. Also coming in for praise are Tony nominee John McMartin (Grey Gardens), Obie winner Brandon J. Dirden (The Piano Lesson), and Robert Petkoff (Anything Goes, Ragtime) in the large supporting cast. While all praised Cranston, the play itself took some hits. Charles Isherwood of the New York Times, Elisabeth Vincentelli of the New York Post, and Thom Geier of Entertainment Weekly commented that the play could use some cutting while Newsday’s Linda Winer called it a “high school history pamphlet.”

 

Bryan Cranston in 'All the Way' on Broadway (Photo: Evgenia Eliseeva)

Bryan Cranston in ‘All the Way’ on Broadway (Photo: Evgenia Eliseeva)

Charles Isherwood, The New York Times
“Although Johnson is not the exclusive focus of the play — many passages focus on the strategizing among various black civil rights organizations — Mr. Cranston’s heat-generating performance galvanizes the production. Even when Johnson is offstage or the writing sags with exposition, the show, directed solidly if a little stolidly by Bill Rauch, retains the vitalizing imprint of his performance.”

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News
“Hot off a prize-winning streak on Breaking Bad, Bryan Cranston drives this star vehicle covering LBJ’s turbulent first year in the top job with an uncanny authority and confidence rare in first time Broadway performers.”

Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post
“Director Bill Rauch keeps things moving smoothly around Christopher Acebo’s set, which looks like a congressional chamber. This is impressive considering the piece’s scope and the extensive roll call—most of the 20 supporting cast members handle several roles.”

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press
“Other standouts in the cast include an oily Michael McKean as Hoover, William Jackson Harper as a fiery Stokely Carmichael, Brandon J. Dirden as a sonorous King and Betsey Aidem, who makes the small part of Lady Bird Johnson a little jewel. Eric Lenox Abrams also gives a powerful demand for justice from a box seat as activist David Dennis.”

Elysa Gardner, USA Today
“Strutting gut-first and affecting a gruff Southern drawl, the leading man delivers the emphatic, crowd-pleasing performance that the play, and Bill Rauch’s vigorous direction, require, while also making Johnson affecting as a flesh-and-blood human being.”

Linda Winer, Newsday
“There is something courageous and very smart about the three-time Emmy winner’s decision to make his Broadway debut in a big ensemble vehicle so far away from Walter White, beloved and complex meth cooker in Breaking Bad. And yet, for all the villains and heroes and sprawling ideals in the play, which began at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival without Cranston, this feels like a fascinating one-man show in a high school history pamphlet.”

Marilyn Stasio, Variety
“Johnson was famously crude, rude, and ruthless. Schenkkan, a Pulitzer Prize winner for The Kentucky Cycle, packs all that into his rich character study and Cranston embraces it all with his no-holds-barred performance.”

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter
“Fictional Washington television drama from The West Wing to Scandal to House of Cards has redefined our expectation of insider White House access, making this methodically constructed play at times seem a starchy excursion…But in Bill Rauch’s fluid production…it’s related with an impassioned clarity that keeps it compelling, even at close to three hours.”

Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly
“All the Way is never dull, but the three-hour play is seriously overstuffed.”

David Cote, Time Out New York
“As Lyndon B. Johnson, borne into the Oval Office on a wave of blood and hemmed in by enemies within and without his party, Cranston rules the boards with a vengeance, a latter-day Abe Lincoln who drops f-bombs and talks plenty about balls. The TV star’s galvanic turn and the layered, polyphonic production around him take the dried facts of history and make them walk, talk and kick ass to victory.”

Matt Windman, AM New York
“Bill Rauch’s production is so visually widespread, with large projected images and actors sitting around a circular wooden chamber, that it diverts focus from Cranston, who violently shifts from a jocular presence who revels in southern fried wisdom and vulgarity to a neurotic, frustrated and seemingly tragic figure.”

 

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