I have a thing for history, politics, Broadway plays, and celebrities. Luckily for me this combination is a likely combination. It happened once before, last year as a matter of fact (http://thequeenoff-ckingeverything.blogspot.com/2013/05/for-lone-state-legend-and-her-lincoln.html). This year I knew I would have another stab at a similar scenario.
I have never seen an episode of the acclaimed “Breaking Bad” but I know its reputation and Bryan Cranston’s soul was apparently left all over televisions sets across America. It was such a reputation that made me want to see him even more when he signed on to play President Lyndon Johnson in the new play on Broadway “All The Way”.
The play takes place immediately after the Kennedy assassination as soon as Johnson is sworn in on Air Force One and continues throughout his political battles and re-election campaign. The many specific details are taken slowly one by one and each major player highlights the pros and cons of what they are fighting for. Make no mistake the fighting in most instances is literal. This is one of my all time favorite periods of history and with these dynamic forces pulling at each other I knew I was all in.
On the night I set out to finally see the show I had been holding my breath longing to see, I hit about two hours of traffic getting into the city. That’s about twice the normal commute from where I was coming from in Brooklyn. I had to ditch my previous dinner plans and spontaneously find something on the block to eat. Now I am not great with flying by the seat of my pants, I assure you and on this day I was no more eager to have to do so. But I put on my big girl panties as they say and forged ahead.
When my brother (my companion on this adventure) and I arrived there were a few random pub like restaurants there. The only distinguishing eatery that popped out at me was Victor’s Café. I had never been there before but had heard it served great Cuban food. I figured there was no time like the present to dig in.
Since we were in a hurry I just walked in, sat down, and ordered the first thing that I saw that sounded good. That would be the Camarones Enchilados, which the menu listed as: pink shrimp, creole sauce, boniato mash, and boniato crisps. This description hardly describes what I ate. When it arrived it looked delicious but it tasted even better. I had no idea what to expect and I wasn’t necessary in the mood for it considering I wasn’t aware I was eating here. This meal was tasty, filling, but light, with a medley of flavors. If I ever have the occasion to go back I will pay closer attention and try something new. As I walked out I saw appetizers on a few tables that looked pretty good to me.
After this delightfully quick meal it was show time. The place was packed and contrary to my usual spot in the orchestra I was up in the balcony. It worked out pretty well because we were dead center and the set took up the entire stage so we had a great vantage point.
The way I saw it there were a handful of key actors in roles that stuck out to me and remain with me to this day, out of a well thought out cast. Together as an ensemble their movements flowed like a well-oiled machine and it seemed effortless. Combing the acting, with the direction, and the set, and presto you are transformed to 1963.
Now we need to spend proper time discussing the set. Of course it is the first thing you notice and it is the basis for which you believe whether or not what you are watching. I have seen many good ones and each time I am always surprised by the ingenuity. However this time it made me gasp. Out loud. It never stopped. This is a show that runs about three hours including a fifteen-minute intermission and until the final scene I was still impressed by the set. I was impressed how the base stayed the same but by changing the lighting and a few key pieces back and forth it worked for so many settings that were being depicted. The story even crosses state lines and I was none the wiser. This is one of my favorites of all time and without it I can’t imagine how I would have felt. Of course the material and the acting matters but where they are standing and interacting makes all the difference. This was simply inspired.
Next up are the actor reviews. Like I said there were many key roles but for me the few I will mention here were the ones I was most affected by.
Lyndon Baines Johnson as we know was depicted by Bryan Cranston and was a star within a star but more about him later.
Lady Bird Johnson whose real name was Claudia Alta, nee Taylor, was portrayed by Monette Magrath. For the record, her nanny is apparently the one who was to give her the lifelong nickname because she was a pretty as a ladybird. Her father called her Lady and her husband Bird. The women next to me in the theatre seemed to think her real first names was Lady Bird. I don’t know if that scares me or amuses me. But considering she used the name Bird on her marriage license I guess they are half right. Although they still left a knife in my soul for their lack of intelligence and having the brevity to shout it out. Thankfully I was able to return my focus to the play due to the excellent performance given to this role.
Martin Luther King Jr. played by Brandon J. Dirken and his part is so crucial to this era. Johnson and King had a relationship that was based I think on love and hate. They had the same goals but the way they achieved them were not easily agreed upon. When you are changing the course of history it never is. Mr. King’s life both personal and professional is illuminated in many facets and learning more about him just makes you more attached. Knowing what is to come only brings more heartache. His role and sacrifice for the Civil Rights movement can never be underestimated.
Michael McKean is a character actor you will all know from one performance or another. In fact he has been in so many movies and television shows that his playbill biography simply ends with “various film and television roles”. I thought that was funny and true. You can’t beat that winning combination.
In this play, Mr. McKean was the infamous J. Edgar Hoover and I was wowed. He was smart, clever, funny, serious, basically all things at all times. If any of you saw the movie starring Leonardo DeCaprio I feel bad for you. Now you have the wrong image in your mind when it comes to this larger than life, real life character. This was by far the best J.Edgar Hoover I have yet to see and it will be a tough one to beat. He was at the top of one of the things I loved best about this show.
Christopher Liam Moore is Walter Jenkins a lifelong aid to President Johnson and beloved employee. He was more like the son Johnson never had (he had two daughters Lynda and Luci). The story he has to tell has a sad ending but it so well told I would have bet my life his Jenkins was a loyal friend to Cranston’s Johnson. The relationship, kinship, really they displayed paid tribute to the devotion they had at one time to one another. Jenkins also had a pivotal role in trying to broker an agreement during negotiations between King and Johnson and the Civil Rights Act. Though it was a bit heartbreaking to watch this is what sticks out most in my mind. While I can’t picture this actor in another role, that is meant only as a compliment.
I have saved the best for last. The way I feel about Bryan Cranston’s portrayal is tantamount to the performance he gave. President Johnson is a man that is often overlooked in the history books and lacks the prior credit for his role due to circumstances beyond his control. His personality and quirks make him a hard figure for just anyone to recreate let alone bring to life six days a week.
I still can’t believe what Bryan Cranston was able to do with this role. It was like he was channeling the President on the inside. It was an all-encompassing job from the way he spoke, to the words he said, to the sound of his voice, to the way he walked, the list goes on and on. I don’t know how he did it. When something is effortless, seamless, and comes naturally it is something that cannot be taught. It gave me chills. I could have watched him forever. If only more politicians could be more like this actor. I haven’t loved a fake President this much since I watched the West Wing.
At the stage door life was going to get even better and I didn’t even know it yet. I had little hope of getting close because we were so far up and it took forever to get out of the theater. I actually have never taken so long to get out of a place in my life. It was like herding cattle. But still I ran to the velvet rope anyways and pushed into the best spot I could. There was already a police officer outside and he was surprisingly nice. He said as long as everyone was calm that once Bryan comes out he is a really nice guy and will sign playbills for everyone. It seemed too good to be true. I have been at this too long. (http://thequeenoff-ckingeverything.blogspot.com/2011/03/for-those-who-want-to-learn-to-stalk.html).
But sure enough after what seemed like an eternity he finally emerged. To say he was nice doesn’t do him justice. He signed for more than his fare share and when I started to panic that I was too far back I needed have worried he kept going. He hadn’t even gotten to the other side by the time I left. He was making sure he got to everyone on one side first. When I approached him I told him that I came just for him and how wonderful he was and he was so gracious. His security was telling the crowd to just take photos of him signing but he was posing and after saying thank you to me he turned and said “did you get good enough pictures”? I said “only about twenty or thirty precious.” Okay I didn’t really say that out loud but I did say “yes thank you” and then proceeded to jump for joy and move out of the way for others. I cannot stress enough how much this kind of generosity means to me (http://thequeenoff-ckingeverything.blogspot.com/2012/06/for-death-of-salesman-and-my-dream-of.html), and the fact that he is an extraordinary talent and acted like no one noticed earned him this fan for life.
Congratulations Bryan Cranston on your successful Broadway debut!!
All The Way was just nominated for 64th Annual Outer Critics Circle Award in the following categories:
• Outstanding New Play
• Outstanding Director of a Play
• Outstanding Actor in a Play
• Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play
The winners will be announced on May 12 from Sardi’s restaurant.
There are also nominations for the 80th Annual Drama League Awards and 2014 Annual Drama Desk Awards. The winners will be announced on May 16th and June 1st, respectively. It is beginning to become impossible to keep up.
I am holding out for the Tony Award Nominations, which will be announced on Tuesday, April 29th. I figure Bryan Cranston and the play itself are each due a nomination if we are going to be honest with ourselves. But I know award shows are political so I figure this time since the topic is political maybe the good guy will win after all. If not, that will be the point where I turn off my TV and starting yelling throwing my fists up towards the heavens in anger.
A few years ago I read Broadway legend Patti Lapone’s memoir and she had this to say about going to the theatre:
"Whether you're in the audience or on the stage, theatre is eternally transportive and transformational, allowing the soul to breathe and the spirit to rejuvenate."
Suffice it to say the brilliance and the talent I witnessed and soaked up that night was exactly the kind of experience Ms. Lapone had in mind.
For the record I am going “All The Way” with L.B.J. and Brian Cranston, my new favorite actor.
Hurry it closes on June 29th!!!
For the New York Times Review (the only one that matters besides mine):http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/07/theater/bryan-cranston-as-president-johnson-in-all-the-way.html?hpw&rref=arts&_r=0
For Those Who Need a Study Guide (I Assure You This Was Already on Their Website):
For Victor’s Café: