"Are you ready for your history lesson," asked the usher at a recent performance of All the Way at the Neil Simon Theater. Please! All the Way is way more than a history lesson, although it does dramatize a significant part of Lyndon Baines Johnson's presidency from his taking office after Kennedy's assassination through the march on Selma, the murders of voting recruiters Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner, and his signature achievement, passing The Civil Rights Act. Yes, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Brandon J. Dirden), Sen. Hubert Humphrey (Robert Petkoff), J. Edgar Hoover (Michael Keaton), Governor George Wallace (Rob Campbell) and Lady Bird Johnson (Betsy Aidem) are significant players in the political tableau, which also reveals the requisite wheeling, dealing, and compromise under his leadership. Most of all, this fast-paced and entertaining three hours covering November, 1963-November, 1964, is the occasion to see the extraordinary Bryan Cranston, in his Broadway debut, morph into the role of LBJ, even down to his boxer shorts. Bryan Cranston can take his Tony now.
But beyond the drama of a bygone era, All the Way is a lesson we can use. This past weekend, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, young ACLU members were soliciting donations to help challenge current voting restrictions in the state. Now voters can only vote on voting day, presenting government issued ID's, changing procedures that may disenfranchise many voters. All the Way takes LBJ to his most triumphant moment, worth considering as his achievement is undone.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.