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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 5, 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 49
All The Way with LBJ
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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All The Way with LBJ

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Writer

ALL THE WAY
SEATTLE REPERTORY THEATRE
Through January 4


Robert Schenkkan's play All the Way is the Tony Award winning show about an intimate peek inside the beginning of the Lyndon Baines Johnson presidential administration. Taking its name from the President's campaign slogan, 'All the way with LBJ,' the play shows the struggles of the President in an inherited office trying to deal with civil rights and the growing tensions in Vietnam. This highly acclaimed play opened at the Seattle Repertory Theatre on November 14.

The play begins on November 22, 1963, hours after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson is on Air Force One being flown to his 'swearing in,' and faces a turbulent country. As an accidental (and thus temporary) President, Johnson finds himself directly facing a country (and a Senate) being divided by Civil Rights causes, and a scheduled presidential election in only eleven months. Johnson finds himself straddling a barbed-wire fence between trying to make progress on the civil rights of African-Americans and appeasing the Southern Senators and Congressmen that have helped put him into office who are hell bent on preventing racial acceptance and equality in the United States of the 1960s. The President feels pressures from the rising powerful voice and actions of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as the outspoken Republican Party Presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater.

The performances in this production are stellar no matter which actor you're talking about, even if you aren't familiar with politics or the era at that time. Jack Willis does a brilliant portrayal of the tormented Lyndon Baines Johnson. Willis shows the conflict through expression and action as easily as if he were channeling the President himself. His voice conveys the gravelly tones of Johnson's speech and the dialect and diction is perfect for the former Texas Vice President. It is easy to see why Willis was chosen to recreate his performance from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Peter Frechette plays Senator Hubert Humphrey, a man very active in the Civil Rights movement, while privately campaigning for a hopeful Vice Presidential nomination. Frechette does an excellent job presenting himself as the proverbial rope in the tug-of-war between Martin Luther King, Jr. and the President.

While the entire remaining cast is excellent, Danforth Comins as Johnson Presidential Aide, Walter Jenkins, and Kenajuan Bentley as the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., give performances that are above and beyond noting. These two supporting actors are as much a part of the team as anyone in this production. Comins' performance shows the fierce dedication and loyalty of the President's 'Right-Hand Man' - the eventual scandal that erupted giving the political detractors a field day. The sharp performance that comes from Bentley presents the struggles of King as both a political Civil Rights leader and being a simple man. Richard Elmore plays J. Edgar Hoover with perfect subtle smarminess to do the actual man proud. He is shown as the manipulator that he was using his office for personal gain by the blackmailing of others while keeping his own secrets hidden from the public.

With heated dialogue and burning conflicts, the writing in All the Way is what makes this play sizzle. It is sharp, comical at points, and profound, especially during some of the more 'private' conversations between the President and those he must deal with on a regular basis. Even if an audience member has no political knowledge (or even interest), the play does an excellent job of giving enough explanation without providing too much background to bore those more politically experienced. While only showing the eleven months of Lyndon Baines Johnson's inherited Presidency, the play is an excellent piece of historical drama providing a well-examined look into the Presidency of such a controversial man and leader.



All the Way was originally commissioned by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival making its premier production in July 2012. Opening on Broadway in February 2014, the show ran for only a limited 131 performances, but left an impact on the Great White Way. Nominated for two Tony Awards the play won both categories, including Best Play and Best Actor in a Play (Bryan Cranston).

All the Way is the first part of a two-part play cycle, The Great Society (playing at the Seattle Repertory Theatre (December 5-January 4) continuing the storyline with the same cast continuing their excellent performances.

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Seattle Men's Chorus holiday concert
THE TRADITION CONTINUES

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All The Way with LBJ
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