×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Regional Legit Review: ‘All the Way’ Starring Bryan Cranston

Cranston gives a dazzling performance as LBJ in an action-packed new play about a seismic moment in American history

With:

Bryan Cranston, Brandon J. Dirden, Michael McKean, Reed Birney, Dakin Matthews, Arnie Burton, Crystal Dickinson, Betsy Aidem, Eric Lenox Abrams, Jay Ferenandez, Susannah Schulman, William Jackson Harper, Christopher Liam Moore, Ethan Phillips, Dan Butler, J. Bernard Calloway, Richard Poe.

The conflict of a divided soul — personal, political and national — sears onstage in A.R.T.’s sprawling, heady and thoroughly gripping drama “All the Way,” starring Bryan Cranston (“Breaking Bad”) as President Lyndon B. Johnson. In this production that already has Broadway buzz, Cranston gives a dazzling, far-ranging and moving perf as the accidental president who took office following the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963. Robert Schenkkan doesn’t shrink from the collision of power and personality at this seismic moment of American history, filling his incident-packed narrative to the bursting point — and then some.

The play starts on the plane trip from Dallas after the shooting and continues to Johnson’s landslide election in 1964 over Republican challenger Barry Goldwater.  And with Schenkkan, a Pulitzer winner for “The Kentucky Cycle,” telling his story with Texas-sized ambition, what a wild 11-month journey it is.

Cranston, who is expert at playing troubled protagonists who have lost their way, early on transitions from a moment of quiet mourning to an embrace of his manifest destiny. From that point on, his perf builds increasing power and danger like a runaway train, as he vividly shows Johnson as master manipulator, charismatic charmer, good old boy, bad old boy and, ultimately, tragic hero who changed the course of politics, his party and the nation for both good and ill.

What makes LBJ, the play and Cranston’s perf so riveting is this American sense of split identity: the do-good dreamer versus the deal-making pragmatist. (“This is not about principle,” he says. “It’s about votes.”)

The play is also ingeniously divided. The first act is a rollicking legislative drama (think “Lincoln”) centering on the behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing of an increasingly powerful and confident Johnson as he steers the historic Civil Rights Legislation by sheer will and foreboding awareness. “Nothing comes free,” he says tellingly. “Nothing. Not even good. Especially good.”

In the second half, things grow darker and the play expands into the epic as Johnson becomes paranoid, self-pitying and blinded by hubris as a multitude of events turn him into a nearly Shakespearean figure — minus the eloquence of language, of course, though some of his country-boy stories weave their own spell.

Helmer Bill Rauch — who last year staged the show’s premiere at his Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where he is a.d. — keeps characters and narrative moving with clarity and grace in Christopher Acebo’s legislative arena setting. Shawn Sagady‘s projections also help with historic contexts and characters i.d.’s.

The solid ensemble members all take on multiple roles effectively, but standouts include Michael McKean as J. Edger Hoover, Christopher Liam Moore as LBJ’s aide Walter Jenkins, Dakin Matthews as Sen. Richard Russell, Reed Birney as Hubert Humphrey and Betsy Aidem as Lady Bird Johnson.

Even at three hours, the work has an abbreviated feel since Schenkkan takes on so many story strands, historic themes and characters that major incidents and players become reductive. But it’s all in the service of telling Johnson’s — and the country’s — grand story, and the triumphs that come at tragic costs.

Popular on Variety

Regional Legit Review: 'All the Way' Starring Bryan Cranston

LoebDramaCenter, Cambridge, Mass.; 550 seats; $110 top. Opened Sept. 19, 2013, reviewed Sept. 20. Runs through Oct. 12. Running time: 3 HOURS.

Production:

An American Repertory Theater production of a play by Robert Schenkkan. 

Crew:

Directed by Bill Rauch. Sets, Christopher Acebo; costumes, Deborah M. Dryden; lighting, Jane Cox; original music and sound design, Paul James Prendergst; video projections, Shawn Sagady; production stage manager, Matthew Farrell. 

Cast:

Bryan Cranston, Brandon J. Dirden, Michael McKean, Reed Birney, Dakin Matthews, Arnie Burton, Crystal Dickinson, Betsy Aidem, Eric Lenox Abrams, Jay Ferenandez, Susannah Schulman, William Jackson Harper, Christopher Liam Moore, Ethan Phillips, Dan Butler, J. Bernard Calloway, Richard Poe.

More TV

  • Courtney Kemp Agboh'Power' TV show final

    'Power' Creator Courtney A. Kemp On Why Starz Series Hasn't Gotten Awards Recognition

    “Power” is a top ratings performer for Starz and has a hugely committed fanbase, but the series has lacked in its awards recognition. Other than honors from the NAACP Image Awards, “Power” has not received any awards or nominations from the Emmys, Golden Globes or SAG — something that star and executive producer Curtis “50 [...]

  • Breaking Bad Movie

    'Breaking Bad' Movie: Watch the First Teaser for 'El Camino'

    In case you hadn’t heard, Emmy-winning drama “Breaking Bad” is cooking up a movie sequel. On Saturday, after details of Netflix’s project quietly leaked online, the streaming giant issued the first teaser for “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie,” which will be released on October 11. Starring Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman, the “Breaking Bad” [...]

  • Breaking Bad

    'Breaking Bad' Movie Release Date, Title and Plot Revealed

    The “Breaking Bad” movie is coming to Netflix sooner than you might think. The film, titled “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie,” is now set to be released on Netflix on Oct. 11, according to a report from the New York Times, with Aaron Paul returning as the series’ popular meth cook Jesse Pinkman. Jesse [...]

  • Laurence FishburneNational Memorial Day Concert Dress

    Laurence Fishburne to Produce 'Marvel's Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur' Series for Disney Channel

    Laurence Fishburne is stepping into the animation game. The “Matrix” star is set to executive produce “Marvel’s Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur,” an animated series which has been given the greenlight at Disney Channel. Based on Marvel’s comic book series, the show hails from from Disney Television Animation and follows the adventures of 13-year-old super-genius [...]

  • Aracne

    Chile’s Sanfic, Mexico’s Morbido Fest Pact to Promote Latino Horror (EXCLUSIVE)

    Mexican horror festival Morbido and Chile’s Santiago Intl. Film Festival (Sanfic) have agreed on a long-term collaboration intended to strengthen the genre film industry in Chile and across Latin America. This partnership will see Morbido representatives attend the Sanfic industry section each year to aid in the promotion of horror projects and advise those projects [...]

  • 'The Simpsons' Producers on Disney, Spinoffs

    'The Simpsons' Producers Talk Potential Disney Spinoffs, Confirm Apu Will Remain

    “The Simpsons” has never shied away from lampooning Disney over the years, but maybe that’s no longer the case. Homer, Marge and co. are of course now part of the Disney family and made their first appearance at the Mouse House’s D23 Expo convention, where the show’s producers were asked plenty of questions about what [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content