That Actors’ Playhouse opened its production of Robert Schenkkan’s “All the Way” on the same day that the American Health Care Act was pulled from a vote by the House of Representatives is ironic and more than a little instructive.
The much-touted replacement for Obamacare didn’t have enough sure votes to ensure passage, as Speaker Paul Ryan told President Donald Trump, so the “replace” part of the administration’s vow to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act is dead for the moment as the nation waits to see whether Trump’s prediction about the implosion of Obamacare comes to pass.
Meanwhile, on the stage of the Miracle Theatre in Coral Gables, J. Kenneth Campbell as President Lyndon Baines Johnson – LBJ – is acting his way through a master class on political wheeling and dealing. “All the Way” focuses on the myriad challenges Johnson faced as he pushed the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 through a contentious Congress, way back when the art of the political deal still seemed possible.
Though the play’s time span is just the first year of Johnson’s presidency, which lasted from the day the then-Vice President took office in 1963 after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy until the end of his only elected term in 1969, “All the Way” itself is anything but compact.
In his pre-opening remarks, director David Arisco described the drama as “epic.” Others might call it “long,” and they would be correct. Schenkkan, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his marathon seven-hour masterwork “The Kentucky Cycle,” does not write short, and the Tony Award-winning “All the Way” clocks in at about three hours. Could it use some editing? Most definitely, in part because some among its vast array of characters amount to little more than sketchy cameos.
The play is a sprawling history lesson anchored by Campbell’s kinetic, persuasive, foul-mouthed LBJ.Bryan Cranston of “Breaking Bad” fame did the honors on Broadway in 2014, winning the best actor Tony, and again in a 2016 version for HBO. Campbell has a long list of Broadway, regional theater, television and movie credits, and he achieves enough of a vocal and physical resemblance to Johnson that it’s easy to go with his portrayal. But the actor playing LBJ has a huge amount of dialogue, and in the opening performance, Campbell wasn’t rock solid with all of it (nor were a few other actors). When a performer is fishing for words, it pulls him and the audience out of the moment, just what you don’t want when watching a political warrior like Johnson.
That said, Campbell is often wry and compelling, adroitly menacing as he asks more than one potential foe, “Are you threatening me?” The man who earned his political bones in the House and Senate is masterful at dangling rewards for compliance and at making plain that defiance will bring retribution. No Tweets, no bigly boasts, no alternative facts for this commander-in-chief, who freely admits it when he makes up a story to suit his purpose.
To convey the sweep of history, a cast of 17 plays dozens of characters, with only Campbell, Marckenson Charles as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Don Juan Seward II as the Rev. Ralph Abernathy confined to a single major role. Charles, a Carbonell Award winner who started his career in South Florida, adds to his admirable performances with his portrayal of the workaholic civil rights icon, a man he imbues with gravitas, spiritual conviction and, briefly, the weakness of the flesh.
Touching on some of the roles going to multitasking actors, Deborah L. Sherman plays the solicitous but long-suffering Lady Bird Johnson and a surprisingly flirtatious version of Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham; Christina Groom is Alabama first lady Lurleen Wallace and Senator Hubert Humphrey’s wife Muriel; and Candice Marie Singleton is a serene Coretta Scott King as well as victimized organizer Fannie Lou Hamer.
Tom Wahl shows his range as Humphrey, who gets the carrot of the vice presidency dangled at him by Johnson, and as southern senator Strom Thurmond, who’s about to jump to the Republican party over this civil rights business. Michael Turner is compelling as LBJ’s omnipresent aide Walter Jenkins, a married Catholic father with a ruinous secret, and Peter Haig is charming as LBJ’s longtime friend and political touchstone, Senator Richard Russell of Georgia.
Standout roles for other cast members include Antoni Corone’s wily J. Edgar Hoover, who knows a thing or two about subtle yet potent threats; Chaz Mena’s Robert McNamara, the secretary of defense who advocated a disastrous escalation of the Vietnam War; Gary Marachek as defiant Alabama Governor George Wallace and powerful United Auto Workers president Walter Reuther; Michael H. Small as Southern Christian Leadership Conference adviser Stanley Levison; and Jerry Weinberg as Republican Senator Everett Dirksen, a man persuaded by LBJ’s appeals to ego and legacy.
The often-contentious scenes focused on leaders of the civil rights movement are among the most absorbing in the play. That’s in no small part because of the work of Charles and Seward, of course, but also because of the dynamic performances of Reggie Whitehead as the more cautious NAACP director Roy Wilkins, Jovon Jacobs as Stokely Carmichael, and Chase Gutzmore as Bob Moses and David Dennis. Riveting when they speak, Jacobs and Gutzmore become galvanizing firebrands.
Jodi Dellaventura’s stately set adapts to become everything from the Oval Office to a church, though some facets of it (LBJ going to sleep in the White House on what looks like a twin trundle bed) don’t quite work. Shaun Mitchell, the sound and projection designer, enhances the storytelling with vintage photos and news footage, the most chilling chronicling the horrific murders of Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney as the three were working to register black voters in Mississippi. Lighting designer Eric Nelson and costume designer Ellis Tillman, who has created a huge array of stylish vintage looks, complete the early ‘60s picture.
Given our current political and ideological divides, given the eruptions of racial and religious or ethnic turmoil in America 2017, “All the Way” offers an instructive chance to look back at a president determined to make the nation more just for all its citizens. What a difference half a century makes.
‘All the Way’ by Robert Schenkkan; Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre, 280 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables; 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday through April 9. Cost: $64 Friday-Saturday, $57 other performances (10 percent senior discount Wednesday-Thursday, $15 student rush tickets 15 minutes before curtain, based on availability); 305-444-9293 or www.actorsplayhouse.org.
Orlando Taquechel, dance critic for two decades at the El Nuevo Herald (and now a contributor to Artburst), will have a book signing and discussion of his new book, “La danza in Miami (1998-..
The name Flamenco conjures the machine-gun snap of heels, arms arched overhead, the flick of red fabric and laser-like glares from beneath the starched black brim of a Cordobes hat. At the ed..
It’s easy to believe the only excitement Miami offers in September are the dire warnings from the weather service about the approach of yet another tropical storm. However, dance lovers in Mi..
Watching Neri Torres rehearse is a study in focus and concentration. She demonstrates each step with an ease developed from years of immersion in the study and performance of Afro-Cuban ..
Miami-based organization Delou Africa has been the ambassador of African dance and drumming in South Florida for the last 30 years. It started as a performing company, and has since expanded..
Miami Beach’s old city hall on a Thursday evening in June made a surreal set up for anyone familiar with tango’s broody scene -- a large cozy room full of cheerful, laughing, and smiling..
When Ballet Flamenco La Rosa takes to the stage this weekend, it will present a program based on traditions which were handed down through the ages. A program filled with the mysteries of fl..
With every great new love, the beginning is a crucible of extremes – will it endure for decades or permanently scar?The program for Dimensions Dance Theater of Miami’sJuly 8show, “Fiebre: A N..
With a heightened emphasis on “Noise” as an innovative musical genre, this sixth installment of the Miami Performance Festival International (M/P’17), running June 23 to 25, challenges South..
After 17 years as a principal dancer with the esteemed San Francisco Ballet, dancing every major role and style possible, Lorena Feijoo is retiring from that company to embark on a new journe..
Miami choreographer Marissa Alma Nick is a storyteller. Her company Alma Dance Theater brings a particularly female inner world to the stage, through lush and sensual choreography. Nick’s..
Pools are ubiquitous in Miami. They dot the landscape like Jackson Pollock drip paintings. Residents swim or idle the hours away by or in the pool – and dancers of Momentum Dance Company also perf..
May’s “Mujeres” series of strong, multi-faceted, women-focused productions, commissioned for Miami Theater Center’s SandBox space, concludes with Spanish-born dancer-choreographer Carlota Pr..
One could say that Bistoury’s 305 & Havana International Improv Fest, which debuts this Saturday at Miami Theater Center, has been in the works for almost 20 years. In 1999 Cuban-born cho..
The process of creating “Shade,” choreographer Augusto Soledade’s latest full-length work, has been one of remembering and reconfiguring memory to discover new ways of talking about identity ..
Upcoming this week, Tigertail presents choreographer Myriam Gourfink and musician Kasper Toeplitz. Hailing from France, the two will be present for a 3-day residency at Subtropics’ South Beac..
From her home base at 6th Street Dance Studio in Little Havana, longtime Miami dance figure Brigid Baker has been slowly crafting a new performance piece. It’s not conceptual or political like con..
Karen Peterson is the artistic director of Karen Peterson and Dancers, a company that brings professional dancers with and without disabilities together in the same piece of choreography, and..
Revivals are hot on Broadway these days with “CATS”and “Hello, Dolly!“once again gracing the Great White Way. There is a certain nostalgia in taking a second or even third viewing of a belove..
What happens when urban dance style meets classical music? We’ll find out when Brooklyn-based hip-hop dance troupe Decadancetheater takes the stage, backed by Miami’s own experimental classic..
“What does it mean to belong? What does it mean to not want to belong?” These are questions that choreographer Reggie Wilson contemplates in his provocative piece “CITIZEN,“ which makes its M..
If even a modicum of redemption can be forged from the hellish after-effects of gun violence, we must listen to the communities most affected by the violence. To this end, “Trigger,” a hip-ho..
Celebrating 35 years is an amazing achievement for any dance company in Miami, but especially one founded in a decade better known for its ties to drugs than to the arts. Momentum Dance Compa..
For Tigertail Productions, April is the month of fire. Like their WATER Festival in 2016, this month’s FIRE Festival celebrates a single element in multiple art forms, including dance, visual..
During the month of April the organizers of the seventh iteration of the O Miami Poetry Festival intend every resident of Miami Dade county to encounter a poem or – even better – write one! An..
As the “home-grown” sweetheart of Miami City Ballet, Patricia Delgado is having her final performances this season before leaving the city and the company she loves to move to New York City.H..
Even people who can’t find Argentina on a map and believe tangos only happen in Paris know La Cumparsita’s iconic four beat opening. Like a bar’s last call, La Cumparsita tells tango dancers ..
You might expect something a tad unusual from a jazz band comprised of Bulgarians and Cubans that’s led by the principal percussionist of the Miami Symphony Orchestra. And that’s what you’ll ..
Not everybody who begins a musical career at age three singing in his grandfather’s Pentecostal Church finds his way to the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Soloman Howard did in two short decades...
Singer-songwriter Tiago Iorc may have been one of Brazil’s best-kept secrets, but the word is getting out. Fresh from appearances in New York, Boston and Orlando, Iorc makes his South Flo..
Gustavo Matamoros’ beard has gone gray, but his passionate promotion of listening as a way of engaging the world remains fresh.Whether bats in the Everglades, shrimp in Biscayne Bay or the no..
Just about now, even as the unsuspecting may be lounging at the beach, classical music is thundering forth in Miami. Our town’s annual eight week Miami Music Festival has begun with its offer..
Talk of weddings can quickly split a friendly gathering into camps of pro and con. Those on the pro side retell the moment when the crying six-year-old ring bearer, stunned by the attention o..
What better way to welcome summer than with a burst of live music? Leave it to the French to come up with the idea. Since 1982, they’ve marked the summer solstice with free concerts and p..
Mexican singer Natalia Lafourcade is as tiny as a house sparrow, with a voice as clean and pure as a bell. These delicate qualities belie a fierce inner strength and a steely artistic will. A..
Melissa Aldana is the first woman instrumentalist and the first South American artist to win jazz’s prestigious Thelonius Monk competition. Which distinction is more important to her? Neither..
El debut de Dimensions Dance Theatre of Miami (DDTM) en noviembre del año pasado fué un acontecimiento artístico y un descubrimiento sumamente agradable. Una sola función en el Miami-Dade Cou..
El festival “Out in the Tropics”, patrocinado por Fundarte en conjunto con el Centro Cultural Español y el Miami Book Fair International, normalmente trae artistas del mundo LGBTQ e hispanoha..
La Gala anual de Cuban Classical Ballet of Miami (CCBM) es un evento que esperan con ansiedad los aficionados al ballet en Miami y, sobre todo, los admiradores del estilo cubano. Desde su deb..
El 11 y 12 de mayo próximo tendrá lugar en el Miami -Dade County Auditorium el estreno en Estados Unidos de Scrutiny: The World Gone Astray(en español,Escrutinio: El mundo se ha ido a la deri..
Para el pianista y compositor cubano Omar Sosa la noción de una cultura global, sin fronteras, no es un concepto abstracto sino un tema personal. En su música, elementos de hip hop y rumba, ..
No hay que viajar a otro país para disfrutar en vivo de la música cubana del momento, la más innovadora, la que le da la vuelta al mundo. Basta con asistir a Global Cuba Fest, aquí mismo, en ..
Nadie como el bailarín y coreógrafo español Antonio Gades para describir el arte que lo hizo internacionalmente famoso cuando vivía: “Un extracto de fuego y de veneno, eso es el flamenco”. ..
Desde Las troyanas de Eurípides hasta “Guernica” de Picasso, o de la canción “Blowing in the Wind” de Bob Dylan al diseño de las gorras rosadas que llevaron miles de mujeres en las protestas ..
En un discurso de 1977, el escritor argentino Jorge Luis Borges desmintió la idea de que la ceguera fuera un mundo de oscuridad cuando describió su propia “modesta ceguera”. Hablaba de ciert..