Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

All the Way
Cleveland Play House
Review by David Ritchey

Also see David's review of My Fair Lady


Steve Vinovich and Jason Bowen
Photo by Roger Mastroianni
Lyndon Baines Johnson was called "the accidental president." He took over the Oval Office after the death of John F. Kennedy and made revolutionary plans that changed the United States forever. He succeeded in passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but it wasn't easy. Johnson controlled and had power because of backroom deals and showdowns. He knew power and how to use it. He was not afraid to bully, reveal secrets or blackmail.

All the Way by Robert Schenkkan deals with the first year Johnson was in office (November 1963 - November 1964). That year LBJ managed to get the Civil Rights Act passed, won the Democrat's nomination for president, and was elected president of the USA. All of this action takes place on the Allen Theatre stage in Cleveland.

Steve Vinovich struts the stage as LBJ. He threatens, shouts and barks to get his way. He can out curse anyone I know—and, often he does it at the top of his voice. His LBJ knows where many of the skeletons are hidden in the nation's capital and is not afraid to open those doors to gain his way and will. Vinovich is excellent as LBJ. (He understudied the Johnson role on Broadway when Bryan Cranston played LBJ.)

The casting is unusual. The characters in this script are historical figures and their faces have been on the front pages of our newspapers. However, most of the actors playing the historical figures don't look like the characters they play. For example, Donald Carrier as Hubert Humphrey is tall and lean. The identification of characters is made all the more difficult because the men are dressed alike in dark suits.

Scenic designer Robert Mark Morgan created a platform that covers the stage and slopes down by steps to a flat plane at the front of the stage. He has placed chairs along both sides of the stage to provide seating for the ensemble. The background, center stage, is a doorway, which leads to the Oval Office and other areas mentioned in the script. Morgan's set os functional and visually attractive. The simplicity of the set adds to the elegance of the Oval Office.

Three young men are murdered in Mississippi while working to get African Americans registered. LBJ calls in Hoover to investigate and threatens the Governor of Mississippi. Johnson wants the bodies found and returned to their families. An area down stage opens as men dig for the bodies. One body is brought up, rotting and hardly holding together. The sight of this skeleton with little left on the bones is shocking to the audience and yet reminds us of how horrible those years could be.

Several female characters contributed to Johnson's battle to pass the Civil Rights Act. Tracee Patterson plays both Muriel Humphrey and Lurleen Wallace—she is such a good actress, I was not aware she played both roles until I check the program. Laura Starnik looks much like Lady Bird Johnson with the thick, well-plastered hair. She has Lady Bird's posture and voice and helps evoke those years in the 1960s. Rachel Leslie gives her Coretta Scott King the elegance and grace so familiar to Mrs. King.

Giovanna Sardelli (director) has helped her actors create characters that, for the most part, match the historical figures we knew in the early 1960s. She obviously did her homework in the history books and has developed a production that brings flashes of the 1960s to life in The Allen Theatre.

The script may be a bit too big, but Johnson was a big man in a big office and he made big demands on others and himself. It is an outstanding script. Remember, the Tony was awarded to All the Way the Best Play of the year.

All the Way plays through October 9, 2016, in the Allen Theatre, Cleveland Play House. For ticket information, call 216-241-6000 or visit clevelandplayhouse.com. Coming up next at the Cleveland Play House will be Sex with Strangers, starting October 22.

Playwright: Robert Schenkkan
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: Jason Bowen
Sen. Richard Russell/Ensemble: Stephen Bradbury
Sen. Hubert Humphrey/Ensemble: Donald Carrier
Sen. Everett Dirksen/Ensemble: Timothy Crowe
Stokely Carmichael/Ensemble: Biko Eisen-Martin
Stanley Levison/Ensemble: Jeffrey Grover
Bob Moses / David Dennis/Ensemble: Eddie Ray Jackson
Gov. George Wallace/Ensemble: Greg Jackson
Coretta Scott King/Ensemble: Rachel Leslie
J. Edgar Hoover/Ensemble: William Parry
Muriel Humphrey / Lurleen Wallace/Ensemble: Tracee Patterson
Walter Jenkins? Ensemble: Chris Richards
Rev. Ralph Abernathy/Ensemble: Joshua David Robinson
Lady Bird Johnson? Ensemble: Laura Starnik
Sec. Robert McNamara/Ensemble: Lou Sumrall
President Lyndon Baines Johnson: Steve Vinovich
Roy Wilkins/Ensemble: Charles E. Wallace
Scenic Designer; Robert Mark Morgan
Costume designer: David Kay Mickelsen
Dialect Coach: Pamela Prather
Director: Giovanna Sardelli


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