Review Roundup: ALL THE WAY Opens on Broadway - All the Reviews!
ALL THE WAY, the new play by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan, starring BREAKING BAD's Bryan Cranston, opens on Broadway at the Neil Simon Theatre tonight, March 6, 2014. The play is directed by Bill Rauch, Artistic Director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where All the Way began its theatrical life.
ALL THE WAY takes audiences behind the doors of the Oval Office and inside the first year of Lyndon B. Johnson's presidency and his fight to pass a landmark civil rights bill.
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Michael Dale, BroadwayWorld: A little bit U.S. Senate and a little bit New York Philharmonic, designer Christopher Acebo's spacious set, given location specificity through a parade of scenes byShawn Sagady's projections, help the free-flowing pageantry of Robert Schenkkan's exciting and energetic drama, All The Way, gallop full speed in director Bill Rauch's pulse-racing production. At the center of a top-notch ensemble isBryan Cranston, portraying our 36th president with that memorable thick Texas drawl, a commanding presence, a quick mind and a ferocious temper. He is indeed a skilled conductor; ruthlessly political, bullying, foul-mouthed and often insensitive to those who show him the most loyalty, all for the cause of promoting the sweet harmony of civil rights with a minimal amount of rioting.
Charles Isherwood, The New York Times: Riding the crest of his fame from "Breaking Bad," Mr. Cranston strides onto the Broadway stage with an admirable confidence, meeting the challenge of animating Mr. Schenkkan's sprawling civics lesson as if he's thoroughly at home. 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.
Mark Kennedy, Associated Press: The Johnson who emerges at the Neil Simon Theatre is ferocious and vulgar, likely to grab you by your throat and toss off a disgusting joke or throw around four-letter words. In Bryan Cranston's hands, he's completely irascible - and one of the highlights of the Broadway season... Cranston, fresh off his triumph as a drug kingpin in "Breaking Bad," shows what he can do in a Broadway debut, and it's astonishing... Watching Cranston bully, threaten, feel sorry for himself, compromise, bellow and turn the knife is a hoot, no matter which side of the aisle you sit. Like "House of Cards," the play explores the ugly sausage of politics and the gulf between the public and private politician...The other real star here is director Bill Rauch, who keeps this jigsaw puzzle humming along. There are countless scenes and a staggering number of parts, and the action spills out into the aisles. But moments melt into the next flawlessly, and the main actors pivot seamlessly, often not waiting for the actors in the last scene to leave.
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: The Actor Formerly Known as Walter White takes a scintillating turn in his first major post-Breaking Bad role, grappling with the infinite contradictions of America's 36th President,Lyndon Baines Johnson. In a riveting Broadway debut, Bryan Cranston's ferociously human character study elevates and invigorates All the Way, Robert Schenkkan's dense political history lesson about the tumultuous year during which LBJ ascended from the VP spot in the wake of John F. Kennedy's assassination and successfully ran for re-election after pushing through the controversial Civil Rights Act.
Elysa Gardner, USA Today: Johnson has similar concerns about both King and Hoover, and most of the men he deals with, and expresses them even more colorfully when not on guard. Schenkkan embraces LBJ's well-documented penchant for raw language, and other traits, without reserve - and Cranston plays them with relish. 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...Through it all, Cranston's LBJ feels a bit like a caricature, but one that's compelling and fun to watch. And every time the president made a big point at a recent preview, the audience clapped as if the actor were a tenor singing a high C. We suspect the unflashy Walter White would not have approved.
Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal: Robert Schenkkan's "All the Way" is not LBJ's first stage appearance, but it's the first time that he's made it all the way to Broadway, and the presence of Bryan Cranston in the cast is the sole reason for his arrival here. New plays don't reach Broadway nowadays without a movie or television star, and Mr. Cranston, lately of "Breaking Bad," is (at least for the moment) the latter. Far more important, he's also a totally assured stage performer who plays Johnson as a gangly, lapel-snatching wheedler in whom self-pity and rage are twisted together too tightly to rip apart. Yes, it's a caricature, and a garish one at that, but Mr. Cranston makes you believe in what you're seeing and hearing...Bill Rauch has staged "All the Way" with a fluid physical vitality that makes the script seem smoother than it is...As for Mr. Cranston, he's a knockout. May he return to Broadway soon-in a less earnest play.
Robert Kahn, NBC New York: "All the Way" replays the battles of the Freedom Summer, many neatly drawn between North and South or black and white. But there's so much procedural material rehashed in the cluttered drama it can feel as if you were being smacked upside the head with a Robert Caro volume...Director Bill Rauch, of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival...energizes the material when he can, often with unexpected juxtapositions..."All the Way" probably isn't a play that would make it to Broadway without an enormous draw as the lead--the real threat to LBJ's campaign here is the proselytizing. It's a story for diehard politicos, students of the civil rights movement or those who enjoy the social capital of saying they've seen one of the top TV actors of our generation in a drama that lets him flex serious muscle.
David Cote, Time Out NY: Bryan Cranston recently ended five seasons playing a good man surrounded by depraved criminals, drowning by inches in a cesspool of guilt, paranoia and homicidal rage. In other words, he was training to be President of the United States. 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...Director Bill Rauch keeps the action flowing through Schenkkan's lively use of direct address, split scenes, soliloquy and fourth-wall-breaking exhortation. This being a political potboiler, there's plenty of rousing rhetoric, and Cranston imbues his inspiring speeches and profane rants with a larger-than-life intensity that leaps off the page. Even if the script sometimes lapses into History Channel expositional mode, its humor and passion never lag-and neither does Cranston.
Roma Torre, NY1: Bryan Cranston is the big draw in "All The Way," a biographical drama about President Lyndon B. Johnson. And while the "Breaking Bad" star actually exceeds the hype, the best news is that the play does, too. With 20 actors in dozens of roles, this is high drama spanning the year between the Kennedy assassination and the '64 election. The main focus is the intense fight to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. As staged, the legislation is treated with the gravity of our nation's founding and the suspense of a first class thriller, and despite knowing the ending, we're on the edge of our seats.
Hermione Hoby, The Telegraph: The play might be a star vehicle but its star delivers. It's thrilling to watch Cranston go from his default, comic stance of forward-thrust hips and slumped shoulders, to fearsome, chest-puffed, confrontation. The play charts Johnson's first year in office and the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, taking LBJ from "accidental president" (he took over after the killing of John F Kennedy) to elected man of the people, with meticulous fidelity. And this is the problem: so often it seems more like a putatively objective history lesson than an examination of character and compromise.
Marilyn Stasio, Variety: What do you say we take up a collection and send every one of those clowns in Congress to "All the Way," Robert Schenkkan's jaw-dropping political drama about President Lyndon B. Johnson's Herculean efforts (and Pyrrhic sacrifices) to get the 1964 Civil Rights Act passed. Bryan Cranston - three-time Emmy winner and everybody's favorite bad boy as the scholarly drug czar in "Breaking Bad" - owns the role of LBJ, cracking the politician's hard shell to expose the man's personal crisis of conscience. But the shocker is watching real legislators legislating, crossing the aisle, however reluctantly, to get difficult things done.
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. The actor is at the height of his power playing a commander-in-chief striving to harness his own. Cranston, who turns 58 Friday, is fiery, ferocious, scary and, quite often very funny as the President who struggles in 1964 to validate his "accidental" rise while also ensuring re-election. Getting the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is key to achieving both - but the clock is ticking and the ranks of opponents are growing...It's also longwinded as it checks off 1964 talking points - MLK's infidelity, FBI spying, three young men killed in Mississippi, Democratic National Convention gamesmanship and more. But when it's at its best, "All the Way" shows the wide division between parties and players in D.C. then - and now.
Robert Hofler, The Wrap: Cranston doesn't look or act much like the real LBJ (at least the one most of us saw on TV), and that's one of the more intriguing aspects of Bill Rauch's direction. Except for a dead-on Lady Bird Johnson (Betsy Aidem) and George Wallace (Rob Campbell), the cast avoids the Madame Tussauds approach to acting that has taken over biopics (and rarely fails to win actors their Oscars). Rauch keeps the focus on telling a complicated story as nimbly as possible, dispensing with the extreme makeup and mannerisms that would only get in the way as Brandon J. Dirden's MLK, Christopher Gurr's Strom Thurmond, Richard Poe's Everett Dirksen, William Jackson Harper's Stokely Carmichael, Robert Petkoff's Hubert Humphrey, Michael McKean's J. Edgar Hoover and Cranston's LBJ do battle with each other in 1964.
Peter Marks, The Washington Post: Portraying America's 36th chief executive, Lyndon Baines Johnson, in Robert Schenkkan's democratic procedural drama "All the Way," Cranston proves so effortlessly captivating that you could imagine pulling a lever for him - or even contributing generously to whatever campaign war chest he trots out. Well, maybe "effortlessly" is the wrong word. Because Cranston, late of TV's habit-forming "Breaking Bad," works like the dickens to convey in his cagey, short-fused, eternally prowling LBJ a strength of will that reveals what a political leader needs to get big things done. It's a darn good thing, too, for without him, the three-hour production, which opened Thursday night at Broadway's Neil Simon Theatre, might feel like something a little duller, along the lines of a talking textbook. Perhaps in the vast cavalcade of Washington events and personalities the play covers, there was not much room left for nuanced portraits. In any event, none of the personages filling out the story, from J. Edgar Hoover (Michael McKean) to George Wallace (Rob Campbell), from Ralph Abernathy (J. Bernard Calloway) to, yes, The Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham (Aidem, again), come to feel as anything more than the audience for LBJ's one-man band. Fortunately for us, though, it's Cranston who is holding the baton.