Retelling a familiar story in a compelling way is often the combination of circumstances, talent, vision and other factors that often remain elusive and indefinable. Zach Theatre”s current production of ALL THE WAY by playwright Robert Schenkkan and directed by Dave Steakley is the coming together of all these factors to create something akin to magical.
The play opens with LBJ returning to Washington aboard Air Force One on that historic day in November 1963 and centers around the months that followed as he worked to steady the country and move forward with important legislation that was “the right thing to do.” It is a revelation!
They are all there…the historic, in some cases bigger-than-life, men and women who helped forge legislation that corrected the inequities that were allowed to become part of America’s culture after The Civil War. Also there are those who sought to maintain the status quo whatever the cost in human pain and suffering. And though some actors played multiple roles, the characters were always clearly defined, discernible, and authentic.
We see the battles behind the scenes as well as those splashed across the front pages of the major newspapers of the time, the political arm-twisting, the devotion to doing “the right thing” and the amazing courage and strength of those who were on the front lines.
At the center of everything is Steve Vinovich’s performance as LBJ, which is powerful and complex. This is the LBJ that sought to comfort the nation after President Kennedy’s assassination, to whip his friends and foes into doing the right thing legislatively, and to position himself to be elected president in his own right. Mr. Vinovich embodies the character to such a degree that I found myself believing he was LBJ.
Other cast members delivering powerful performances include Melvin Abston as Dr. Martin Luther King, Nicole Schiro as “Bird,” and Michelle Alexander as Fannie Lou Hamer,
Cliff Simon, set designer, has created a space that smoothly transitions from the halls of Congress to LBJ’s office in the White House to more modest accommodations for Dr. King and his supporters, and finally to the ghastly gravesite of the heroic young man who died trying to register African-American voters in the South. The rising and sliding platforms keep the action moving forward. Costume Designer Michael McDonald has produced beautiful, authentic, and appropriate designs for a wide range of socio-economically diverse characters of the period.
I am often surprised by the invisible excellence of a production: the things that go so well that they are “invisible.” The lighting design and the sound design come to mind in particular. The audience never notices as long as they are perfect or nearly so. This is another trademark Zach production where Director Steakley has brought it all together and brought it home!
We give this show 5 out of 5 stars a show, no an experience, you should not miss. There are plenty of performances left to see this overwhelming production, All The Way runs through May 10, 2015. For more information or for tickets check out www.zachtheatre.org