Update April 14: It is worth mentioning that ERIC LENOX ABRAMS is making his Broadway debut too. Why someone who is so obviously extraordinarily talented hasn't made his Broadway debut before boggles the mind, but I'm glad to see it finally happened, and once he becomes a superstar we can all act very smug and hip and say that we saw him before he had made it big.
UPDATE April 3: This post has been updated with the correct name of the actor who gave the monologue after the funeral in the play "All the Way". That is ERIC LENOX ABRAMS who plays Bob Moses and David Dennis. All the actors were fabulous, but I provided the wrong name and I sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this caused. As a side note, WILL HARPER JACKSON as Stokely Carmichael is also absolutely fantastic in his Broadway debut. Just go see the play and see for yourself how amazing these two are!
The second show I saw last weekend (see my previous post for the first one) is Robert Schenkkan's play about LBJ, "All the Way", at the Neil Simon Theatre on Broadway. Much has been made of the fact that Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad holds the leading role, and that certainly helped the play move to Broadway after its sold-out run at Cambridge's American Repertory Theater, but let me take this opportunity to set something straight: the play is superb, and has a phenomenal cast. Sure, Cranston is remarkable, but the other actors are also masters of their craft.
Two particularly caught my attention: Brandon Dirden, who plays Martin Luther King, and -- the only one who got rousing applause in the middle of the play after the end of his spell-binding monologue -- Eric Lenox Abrams. You can tell your friends you're going to see "All the Way" for Bryan Cranston if you want, but by the time you come out, you'll be remembering Abrams the most. Watch him in the scene at the funeral for the murdered black civil right worker (a real case) and hear him shout his pain while he goes from the balcony to backstage and then back to the stage, never stopping his monologue of outrage that the murder of the black kid by white Mississippi men will remain unpunished, and you'll have to wonder what is wrong with the theater world if that man hasn't become a superstar yet. Remember that name: Eric Lenox Abrams.
You can read a review of the play in the Cambridge run here. The running time including intermission is almost three hours, but I didn't find it long. You'll enjoy the play more if you know the period - for instance people who knew of J. Edgar Hoover's personal life/orientation laughed a lot during the scene where LBJ talks with Hoover about the arrest of his male assistant for soliciting an undercover male officer in a bathroom (Michael McKean plays Hoover brilliantly), while I could hear others explain to their neighbors why all the laughter was for. I found the Southern dialects a bit off-putting, both for LBJ and his wife - it was sometimes hard to understand them and their voices didn't project very well in the theater, although at the end Cranston made an appeal for a charity run by Actors Equity, and his "normal" voice projected just fine. The set almost never changes but images of the places the actors are supposed to be in (an office in the White House, a motel room) are projected in the back of the stage. Initially I found it hard getting used to, because of the contrast with what was on set, but I found the use of the semi-circle with seated actors in the chairs (and light spots on them when it is time for them to talk) very effective, and the way that actors froze when the scene changed while they were still on stage quite remarkable. The use of the space, including the balcony and the aisles of the orchestra, was also very effective.
In summary, if you care about politics, civil rights and good theater, you really should make the time to see this play before it closes on June 29. And as a bonus, you will see famous actors, and actors who are sure to become famous. Below is a video segment from ABC News about the play. Catch it if you can. It is truly great theater: great play, great acting, great production.