I remember Lyndon Baines Johnson. When he announced he wasn’t running for re-election in March 1968, the United States of America was on fire. Literally. Young people were burning it down over our involvement in Vietnam. Only four years earlier, LBJ was the fiery proponent of the Voters Right Act, and a civil rights activist in office after taking office following the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
Now, in a three hour play called “All the Way,” LBJ is frozen in that early moment by playwright Robert Schenkkan. He’s likened to Abraham Lincoln as his successor in civil rights. “Breaking Bad” star Bryan Cranston gives the performance of a lifetime as Johnson, with a huge cast and comprehensive (if sometimes clunky) retelling of Johnson’s first year in office. The actor, the play, the director Bill Rauch, and several fine supporting actors including John McMartin, Michael McKean, Robert Petkoff and Ethan Phillips among many.
No less than Steven Spielberg sat right up front last night. He may have thought “All the Way” was a sequel to “Lincoln.” He wouldn’t be wrong. Also spotted: Chris O’Dowd and James Franco from the upcoming “Of Mice and Men,” Tony winning actor and playwright Tracy Letts, US Congresswoman and Minority leader Nancy Pelosi, plus Tamara Tunie and husband Gregory Generet, Christine Baranski (still humming songs from “Sweeney Todd”), director and actor extraordinaire Ruben Santiago Hudson, Sebastian Stan, Irish actor Colin O’Donoghue, McKean’s famous actress wife Annette O’Toole, plus Gayle King, Charlie Rose, and Ronan Farrow, who spent time at the party in Rockefeller Center drumming up viewers for his ailing MSNBC show.
I’ll have more on the show later Friday. But suffice to say I’ve followed Bryan Cranston from his early days as Dr. Tim Watley on “Seinfeld” to “Malcolm in the Middle” to “Breaking Bad” with a stop in there for “Drive.” What a stupendous trajectory! This is his Broadway debut. It couldn’t be more accomplished. He holds the stage and runs this play as LBJ without ever faltering or turning this problematic president into a caricature. Bravo!