The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings









etcetera- NEWS


See links at top of our Main Page







Free Updates
A CurtainUp DC Review
All the Way
"Politics is war by other means, you know how to win by not losing." — LBJ in a monologue
All the Way
(L to R) Richard Clodfelter as Hubert Humphrey and Jack Willis as President Lyndon Baines Johnson (Photo by Stan Barouh)
Arena Stage's theater in the round, the Fichandler, is beautifully suited to All the Way, Robert Schenkkan's political drama about President Lyndon Johnson's first year in office. Set designer Kate Edmunds has centered on the floor a large reproduction of the President's seal. To that she adds as warranted, beds, desks, silver tea sets and so on. It works extremely well which is not always the case in theater-in-the-round.

What helps, of course, is the bellowing voice of Jack Willis as President Lyndon Baines Johnson, a larger-than-life character physically and politically. Curtainup's review of the Broadway production suggests that Tony winner Bryan Cranston "owns" the role of LBJ ( Elyse's review ). However, Jack Willis, the original LBJ when the show premiered pre-Broadway at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, incarnates the larger than life pol perfectly. Not as tall as the former president, Willis has mastered the crudeness, vulgarity and physicality of the role. He embodies the Commander in Chief who dominates all who come before him. Plus his bombastic voice carries a heavy punch.

When President Kennedy was shot and killed in November, 1963, Vice President Johnson succeeded him. It was a job, playwright Schenkkan reminds us, he did not want. But given the circumstances and given the responsibilities thrust upon him, LBJ took to the leadership the way he treated his dog whom he lifted by its ears. His command of politics is legendary, especially in the way he engineered the passage of the Civil Rights Bill. Do not think of this play whose time frame is November, 1963 to November 1964 as a civics or history lesson but rather a drama, good guys versus bad guys, who wins and how.

The slogan "All the Way" comes from the Presidential election of 1964 but the play's title could just as easily connote what the President expected of his cabinet and his aides — total devotion not just to him but to the cause, particularly the Civil Rights Act.

Willis is touching as LBJ describes the poverty of his youth and of those who surrounded him in the South, the genesis of his commitment to civil rights. What he had to do to get the Act passed makes riveting theater. He is fortunate in that Director Kyle Donnelly has orchestrated the drama well. And she is blessed with a mostly fine cast.

Both Richard Clodfelter as Hubert Humphrey— a thoroughly decent man, courtly politician and perfect foil to LBJ — and Lawrence Redmond as Richard Russell — a bigoted Senator whose attempts along with those of his fellow white, Southern old fogeys to crush the Civil Rights Act— give excellent performances.

Discussions among African-American leaders to LBJ's left such as Stokely Carmichael (Jaben Early in a fine vignette), and to the right, Roy Wilkins (the sonorous David Emerson Toney) expose a full range of the black leadership's takes on how to proceed: the young firebrands willing to take risks versus the old go-along to get-along guys.

Costume designer Nan Cibula-Jenkins has fun with mid-1960's dresses, suits, pearls, perfectly placed brooches and white gloves worn by the stand-by-your-man spouses Lady Bird Johnson (Susan Rome) and Lurleen Wallace(Adrienne Nelson.) Many of the male actors play multiple parts, their differences marked by their hair which must have kept wig designer Anne Nesmith busy.

LBJ the politician did what he had to do to get results. LBJ the man was crude and vulgar, a bully and a liar, but he was a brilliant politician and Jack Willis's portrayal gives the "accidental" President his due — an exceptionally gripping performance.

All The Way by Robert Schenkkan
Directed by Kyle Donnelly
Set Designer, Kate Edmunds
Costume Designer, Nan Cibula-Jenkins
Lighting Designer, Nancy Schertler
Wig Designer, Anne Nesmith
Cast: Jack Willis (President Lyndon Baines Johnson); Susan Rome (Lady Bird Johnson and others); John Scherer (Walter Jenkins and others); Adrienne Nelson (Lurleen Wallace and others); Richard Clodfelter (Hubert Humphrey and others); Lawrence Redmond (Richard Russell and others); Richmond Hoxie (J. Edgar Hoover and others); David Bishins (Robert McNamara and others); Martin Luther King, Jr. (Bowman Right); Craig Wallace (Ralph Abernathy and others); Tom Wiggin (Stanley Levison and others); Jaben Early (Stokely Carmichael and others); Stephen F. Schmidt (Cartha "Deke" DeLoach and others); Shannon Dorsey (Coretta Scott King and others); Cameron Folmar (George Wallace and others); David Emerson Toney (Roy Wilkins and others); Desmond Bing (Bob Moses and others.)
Run time: 2 hours and 45 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.
Arena Stage/Fichandler Theater, 1101 Sixth Street, SW, Washington, DC;; 202-488-3300; tickets are $40 to $90. April 1 to May 8, 2016.
Review by Susan Davidson based on April 7, 2016 performance.
Highlight one of the responses below and click "copy" or"CTRL+C"
  • I agree with the review of All the Way
  • I disagree with the review of All the Way
  • The review made me eager to see All the Way
For a feed to reviews and features as they are posted add to your reader
Curtainup at Facebook . . . Curtainup at Twitter
Subscribe to our FREE email updates: E-mail:
put SUBSCRIBE CURTAINUP EMAIL UPDATE in the subject line and your full name and email address in the body of the message
The New Similes Dictionary
New Similes Dictionary

Slings & Arrows  cover of  new Blu-Ray cover
Slings & Arrows- view 1st episode free

Book Of Mormon MP4 Book of Mormon -CD
Our review of the show amazon

©Copyright 2016, Elyse Sommer.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from