All the Way (play)

All the Way

Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964
Written by Robert Schenkkan
Characters Lyndon B. Johnson
Lady Bird Johnson
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Hubert Humphrey
J. Edgar Hoover
Richard Russell
Date premiered July 28, 2012 (2012-07-28)
Place premiered Oregon Shakespeare Festival
Original language English
Series American Revolutions: The United States History Cycle
Subject Politics
Genre Drama
Setting Washington, D.C., Atlantic City, Mississippi, Atlanta, November 1963 to November 1964

All the Way is a play by Robert Schenkkan, depicting President Lyndon B. Johnson's efforts to maneuver members of the 88th United States Congress to enact, and civil rights leaders including Martin Luther King, Jr. to support, the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The play takes its name from Johnson's 1964 campaign slogan, "All the Way with LBJ."[1]

The play was commissioned by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and premiered there in 2012, in a production directed by Bill Rauch, with Jack Willis originating the role of LBJ. It premiered on Broadway in March 2014, in a production also directed by Rauch, which won the 2014 Tony Award and Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play. Bryan Cranston won the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play for his performance.


All the Way was commissioned by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) as part of its "American Revolutions: The United States History Cycle."[2] It premiered at OSF on July 28, 2012, directed by Bill Rauch, with Jack Willis originating the role of LBJ.[3]

A reading of All the Way was held in January 2013 at Seattle Repertory Theatre, as part of the theater's New Play Festival;[4][5] it was paired with The Great Society, also by Robert Schenkkan[4][5]

The play was produced in September 2013, at the American Repertory Theater (ART) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, directed by Rauch, with Bryan Cranston as LBJ.[6] The ART production premiered on Broadway at the Neil Simon Theatre for a limited run on March 6, 2014, where it ran through until June 29, 2014.[7]

The Broadway and ART productions starred Bryan Cranston as LBJ, and the cast included John McMartin, Betsy Aidem, Christopher Liam Moore, Robert Petkoff, Brandon J. Dirden, Michael McKean, and Bill Timoney.[8]

The play sold out its American Repertory Theater showing, and strong sales were reported for previews of its limited Broadway run at the Neil Simon Theatre.[9][10] On June 5, 2014, the producers announced that the play had recouped its $3.9 million investment in under four months.[11]

All the Way is the first of two plays by Schenkkan on Johnson's presidency. The second part, The Great Society, premiered at the OSF on July 27, 2014. Jack Willis, who played Johnson at its Oregon premiere, again plays Johnson in The Great Society in Oregon.[12][13] The sequel, also directed by Rauch, continues the Johnson story from 1964 to 1968.[9][14]


House roll call for the Civil Rights Act of 1964

The play opens shortly after the assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. and continues through Johnson's landslide reelection on November 3, 1964. In his first year as president, Johnson engineers passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Johnson has Senator Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota reach out to liberal congressmen and civil rights groups, while Johnson personally deals with Southern congressmen, who are deeply opposed to the legislation. At the end of Act One, the law passes the Senate, Johnson using cajolery, arm-twisting, and blackmail to get his way. Johnson himself is from the South, he is close to the recalcitrant southern congressmen, and he uses homespun and sometimes off-color stories to persuade them.[1][14] A reviewer noted, "Johnson seems just to be shooting the breeze when really he's riding herd on friend and foe alike in anxious pursuit of his goals." Throughout, the play makes copious reference to congressional terminology unusual in Broadway plays, such as "cloture" and "filibuster," which are mechanisms used to extract bills from committees.[14]

Johnson is portrayed as emotionally needy and vulnerable, even as he rides roughshod over other people such as his wife, Lady Bird Johnson, and his longtime aide, Walter Jenkins, who is abandoned after he is arrested on a morals charge. He is disdainful of Humphrey and promises the vice-presidency to him in the 1964 elections if he goes along with Johnson.[1][14]

Johnson engages in spirited conversations with Senator Richard Russell of Georgia, who strongly opposes the legislation but finds that his ability to stop the bill has ebbed because of Johnson's tactics.[14]

On the other side, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. must contend with more conservative leaders, such as Roy Wilkins, who oppose civil rights marches and militant leaders like Stokely Carmichael, who favor strong action. The more activist leaders prevail, and launch the "Freedom Summer;" young college students ride buses into the south to desegregate facilities. Three Freedom Riders (Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney) are slain, forcing Johnson to send in the FBI and further inflaming emotions. J. Edgar Hoover is shown eavesdropping on Dr. King.[14]

In the second act, the action shifts to Atlantic City, New Jersey, where a battle is brewing at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. The segregated Mississippi delegation is challenged by the integrated Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.[14]


Schenkkan describes All the Way as a play about "the morality of politics and power. Where do you draw the line in terms of intentions and action. How much leeway does a good intention give you to violate the law?"[9]

The play's set is a semi-circular dais surrounding the central portion of the stage. The New York Observer said that the surrounding seats "serve as Congressional hearing rooms, and as spots for ever-present observers to sit and watch, but mostly they render the stage a coliseum, with everything that happens a battle, or maybe a courtroom: L.B.J. is always on trial."[1]

Unlike previous dramatic depictions of Johnson, such as Barbara Garson's satirical 1967 play MacBird!, Johnson is portrayed sympathetically. Writing in The New York Times, Sam Tanenhaus said that All the Way portrays Johnson "as something far more interesting and even inspiring: the last and perhaps greatest of all legislative presidents, with his wizardly grip on the levers of governance at a time when it was still possible for deals to be brokered and favors swapped and for combatants to clash in an atmosphere of respect, if not smiling concord."[15]

Broadway production

In preparing for the role, Cranston sought to meet Robert Caro, author of a multipart biography of Johnson (The Years of Lyndon Johnson). But Caro refused, telling The New York Times: "I didn’t want to see someone playing Lyndon Johnson or talk to the actor playing him because I was afraid that image would become blurred for me. The better the actor the more danger there would be that that would happen.”[16]


Critical reception

The Broadway production received generally favorable reviews, with Bryan Cranston's performance singled out for praise.

Writing in The New York Times, Charles Isherwood called All the Way a "dense but mostly absorbing drama, set during the tense first year of Johnson’s presidency following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy." Isherwood praised Cranston as Johnson, saying his "heat-generating performance galvanizes the production. Even when Johnson is offstage or the writing sags with exposition, the show, directed solidly by Bill Rauch, retains the vitalizing imprint of his performance." Other characters such as Hoover and George Wallace are "merely sketched in," and the play "sorely needs streamlining."[14] In his review of the American Repertory Theater production, also starring Cranston, Isherwood said the play "ultimately accrues minimal dramatic momentum."[17]

The Broadway production was called "juicy" by the Chicago Tribune, which said that Cranston "offers up a restless, hypnotically intense physicality coupled with an intimately forged vulnerability." It said that the lead actor "does not disappoint for a moment, driving the show with a truly riveting life-force and, it seems, painting every up and down in this insecure but notably self-aware president's life on his visage, which he seems to pull and stretch in limitless directions. "[18]

Variety called All the Way a "jaw-dropping political drama" and a "beautifully built dramatic piece,"[19] while New York's Daily News said that the play was "talky but terrifically acted."[20]

Awards and nominations

All the Way received four nominations for the 2014 Outer Critics Circle Awards: Outstanding New Broadway Play, Outstanding Director Of A Play, Outstanding Actor In A Play (Bryan Cranston), and Outstanding Featured Actor In A Play (John McMartin).[21] The play won two awards: Outstanding New Broadway Play and Outstanding Actor In A Play (Bryan Cranston).[22]

The play won the 2014 Drama League Award, Distinguished Production of a Play.[23]

The play received five nominations for the 2014 Drama Desk Awards: Outstanding Play; Outstanding Actor in a Play (Bryan Cranston); Outstanding Director of a Play (Bill Rauch); Outstanding Projection Design (Shawn Sagady); and Outstanding Sound Design in a Play (Paul James Prenderagst) It won the awards for Outstanding Play and Outstanding Actor in a Play.[24]

The play received two nominations for the 68th Tony Awards: Best Play and Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play for Bryan Cranston, winning both.[25]

Film adaptation

Main article: All the Way (film)

A television film based on the play starring Cranston, written by Schenkkan, and directed by Jay Roach premiered on HBO on May 21, 2016.[26]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 Oxfeld, Jesse (March 11, 2014). "And the Prize Goes to the Puppet: 'All the Way' Is Riveting, and the Directorial Vision Behind 'Antony and Cleopatra' Is Brilliant". New York Observer. Retrieved March 15, 2014.
  2. "All the Way". Oregon Shakespeare Festival. 2012. Retrieved 30 March 2014.
  3. "'All the Way' Wins Two Tony Awards". News Release. Oregon Shakespeare Festival. June 9, 2014. Retrieved 10 June 2014.
  4. 1 2 "Production History" (PDF). Seattle Repertory Theatre. Retrieved 27 June 2015.
  5. 1 2 "All the Way and The Great Society". Seattle Repertory Theatre. Retrieved 27 June 2015.
  6. Hetrick, Adam. "Bryan Cranston Is Lyndon B. Johnson in All The Way, Premiering Sept. 13 at the American Repertory Theater", September 13, 2013
  7. Hetrick, Adam. "Tony-Winning Hit 'All The Way', Starring Bryan Cranston, Ends Broadway Run", June 29, 2014
  8. All the Way at the Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 10 June 2014.
  9. 1 2 3 Siegel, Ed. "'All The Way With LBJ - Did He Break Bad, Too?". The Artery. Retrieved 14 March 2014.
  10. Healy, Patrick (February 18, 2014). "Strong Sales for 'All the Way' in Previews". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 March 2014.
  11. Hetrick, Adam. "Broadway Drama All The Way, Starring Bryan Cranston, Recoups Investment", June 5, 2014
  12. "Oregon Shakespeare Festival Announces Great Society For 2014 Season", accessed June 6, 2014
  13. Purcell, Carey. "Robert Schenkkan's The Great Society, Reuniting Original OSF Cast of All The Way, Opens", July 27, 2014
  14. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Isherwood, Christopher (March 6, 2014). "Washington Power Play: Bryan Cranston as President Johnson in 'All the Way'". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 March 2014.
  15. Tanenhaus, Sam (February 5, 2014). "Presidential Chemistry: Bryan Cranston Is Playing Lyndon Johnson on Broadway". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 March 2014.
  16. Tanenhaus, Sam (February 10, 2014). "Robert Caro, L.B.J. and 'All The Way'". The New York Times. Retrieved March 15, 2014.
  17. Isherwood, Charles (September 25, 2013). "An Arm-Twister in the Oval Office: 'All the Way' Stars Bryan Cranston as Lyndon B. Johnson". The New York Times. Retrieved March 15, 2014.
  18. Jones, Chris (March 10, 2014). "'Breaking Bad' star Bryan Cranston gets his hooks into LBJ". The Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 14 March 2014.
  19. Stasio, Marilyn (March 7, 2014). "Bryan Cranston owns the role of LBJ in this beautifully built dramatic piece.". Variety. Retrieved 14 March 2014.
  20. Dziemiamowicz, Joe (March 6, 2014). "'All the Way': Theater review". New York Daily News. Retrieved 14 March 2014.
  21. Gans, Andrew (April 22, 2014). "64th Annual Outer Critics Circle Awards Nominations Announced; 'A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder' Leads the Pack". Playbill. Archived from the original on July 14, 2014. Retrieved 30 April 2014.
  22. Gans, Andrew.64th Annual Outer Critics Circle Award Winners Announced; 'Gentleman's Guide' Wins Four Awards" Archived May 12, 2014, at the Wayback Machine., May 12, 2014
  23. Gans, Andrew. "80th Annual Drama League Award Winners Announced; Neil Patrick Harris Wins Distinguished Performance Honor", May 16, 2014
  24. Gans, Andrew. "Winners of 59th Annual Drama Desk Awards Announced; 'Gentleman's Guide' and 'All the Way' Win Top Prizes" Archived June 6, 2014, at the Wayback Machine., June 1, 2014
  25. Staff."Just the Winners, Please: Who Won the 68th Annual Tony Awards", June 8, 2014
  26. "HBO Goes All the Way with Bryan Cranston". August 13, 2015. Retrieved September 19, 2015.

External links

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