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3/11/14

The Ironic Thing About All The Way

For a show called All The Way, it is pretty half-assed.

In the spirit of full disclosure, this is coming from someone whom can’t get enough of House of Cards with its fantastic writing, direction and performances (seriously, go binge-watch that shit on Netflix). Comparing the two is like comparing Frank Wildhorn and Stephen Sondheim, but allow me to explain…House of Cards motivates me to want to engage with the political jargon and the tumultuous dynamics that are prevalent in each political scope. Frost/Nixon and The Best Man achieve a similar feat...albeit, those dramas are less political-based and utilize a scandal or controversy to garnish the entertainment.

All The Way? I just couldn’t be bothered to sit up in my orchestra-left aisle seat.

The Neil Simon Theatre has been converted into the President’s cabinet with the tiered, wooden furniture and a desk you could only associate with the White House. Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson has just ascended to the Presidency as a result of JFK being assassinated with a year left in his term. All the Way follows Johnson for the whole year leading up to the election in 1964, the allegiances made and lost and the promises kept or dismissed (mostly involving the Civil Rights movement).

While it was smart of writer Robert Schenkkan to not spread the story over decades upon decades (a theatre trend proving problematic lately), the story is bereft of any tension or substantial character growth. The most entertaining parts are when Johnson’s “zero fucks given” persona (for a president, that is) leap off the stage to provide temporary amusement. But even the most ebullient president/character can keep your attention for so long before you zone out and go off to a more interesting show in your head. 

And Bill Rauch’s direction of the show leaves something to be desired. The White House decorum are permanent fixtures on the stage, leaving the characters swaying and swerving in and out. And, of course, a gigantic projection screen with different landscape images and newspaper headlines, are used to transition the scenes and accompany the story forward. It doesn’t add up and if I didn’t know any better, I would have thought that every scene took place on or around the President’s office.

To his credit, Bryan Cranston is pouring his heart and soul into President Johnson, resulting in a performance so right-on, it further highlights how wrong the rest of the show is. It is a spirited, southern transformation and he knocks every line out to the cheap seats. Expectations for Mr. Cranston are running high after five seasons (and a ton of Emmys) for playing one of the most compelling characters in television history. So, is anyone honestly surprised that he is bringing the house down? Probably not.

But try as he might - and oh, he does try - All The Way can only benefit so much from his performance. In fact, I can’t recall a word of dialogue or anything notable that happened in a scene that didn’t directly involve him. Well, maybe the two or three times Lady Bird Johnson came on stage…but that’s only because she went by the name 'Lady Bird' and in 2014, that sounds like a drag queen name or just a fabulous one, in general. I. Love.

Clearly, I’m very sophisticated when it comes to names.

Feel free to go see All The Way and get your Cranston fix and think about how great he is in everything. In fact, go to the stage door and tell him that yourself. But the almost-three hours leading up to that moment will likely leave you wondering what the hell you are watching and when his next Broadway show is (if ever). He's talented - and versatile, as evidenced by another role in a career spanning a variety of character archetypes - but he deserves a better show then this.


Photo Credit: Evgenia Eliseeva

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