Cleveland Play House brings LBJ to life in all of his bombastic splendor

Lyndon Baines Johnson often referred to himself as “the accidental president” (conspiracy theorists have for decades tried to connect him with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy but all to no avail). He was a man of unbridled ambition who lusted for power. He had a tremendous appetite not just for this power but for women and food as well.

He lived by the motto “politics is war” and he fought taking no prisoners. He was cunning, ruthless, slanderous and totally intimidating. He had an ally in the form of J. Edgar Hoover whom he used much like a pit bull to attack his opposition while being careful that “J” did not turn on him. He was foul mouthed with a vicious temper and often conducted state business while sitting on the toilet with the door open. He was, in short, the consummate politician who was not above putting himself above the law.

In spite of his flaws as a man he had a true compassion for the underprivileged citizens of the United States of America. He never forgot his impoverished upbringing in Texas or the first job he had teaching poor but eager immigrant Mexican children.

During his tenure in office he pushed 24 Acts through Congress some of which were most controversial at the time such as The Civil Rights Act of 1964, The Economic Opportunity Act, The Housing Act, The Higher Education Act, The Older Americans Act, The Social Security Act, The Voting Rights Act, The Architectural Barriers Act, The Civil Rights Act and The Gun Control Act just to name a few.

His dream of a “Great Society” was designed to insure that all Americans, no matter what their social status could benefit from the wealth of the country and in return give back for the benefits they had received. This included people of all color and especially what he referred to as “the Negras.”

Cleveland Play House’s production of Robert Schenkkan’s “All The Way” is directed by Giovanna Sardelli and begins following Johnson being sworn in as President. Upon reaching Washington, D.C. he immediately begins scheming on implementing his programs while preparing for his reelection in fourteen months.

Steve Vinovich does not merely play President Johnson, he is Johnson. He carries off the accent, swagger, mean temper and win at all cost drive that led to the President’s success and ultimate downfall. In fact, all of the actors representing powerful figures of that era do a fine representation of such men and women as Lady Bird Johnson (Laura Starnik), Walter Jenkins (Chris Richards), Hubert Humphrey (Donald Carrier) and Robert McNamara (Lou Sumrall) to name a few.

The stage (by Set Designer Robert Mark Morgan) is a large semi-circular room that throughout the play represents the Oval Office, The Halls of Congress, Dr. Martin Luther King’s Headquarters and motel rooms, The Oslo City Hall (where the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded) and various campaign stops. Massive video screens surrounding the stage use Projections Designer Dan Skully’s historic renderings to set the scene and reinforce the local. The Costume Design by David Mickelsen looks like something straight out of the historic photos of the times.

As can be expected, there is language as well as adult themes prevalent in the production, thus those sensitive to such should reconsider attending the show.

The production values for this production are extremely high with no noticeable problems.

Reading more like a Shakespearean tragedy than a political historical drama we gain insight into President Johnson and the conflicts that made him what he was. Deeply flawed and ultimately challenged with making lasting changes to better his country he was a man driven to set things right. This show is as close a representation as you will ever find of the author of “The Great Society.” It is a fast moving and gripping drama well worth seeing.

The Cast of “All The Way” consists of Steve Vinovich (President Lyndon Baines Johnson) Jason Bowen (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) Stephen Bradbury (Sen. Richard Russell/ensemble) Donald Carrier (Sen. Hubert Humphrey/ensemble) Timothy Crowe (Sen. Everett Dirksen/ensemble) Biko Eisen-Martin (Stokely Carmichael/ensemble) Jeffrey Grover (Stanley Levison/ensemble) Eddie Ray Jackson (Bob Moses/David Dennis/ensemble) Greg Jackson (Gov. George Wallace/ensemble) Rachel Leslie (Coretta Scott King/ensemble) William Parry (J. Edgar Hoover/ensemble) Tracee Patterson (Muriel Humphrey/Lurleen Wallace/ensemble) Chris Richards (Walter Jenkins/ensemble) Joshua David Robinson (Rev. Ralph Abernathy/ensemble) Laura Starnik (Lady Bird Johnson/ensemble) Lou Sumrall (Sec. Robert McNamara/ensemble) and Charles E. Wallace (Roy Wilkins/ensemble).

The Design Team for All the Way also includes: Michael Lincoln (Lighting Designer), Jane Shaw (Sound Designer), Dan Scully (Projections Designer), Pamela Prather (Dialect Coach), and Wigs and Whiskers (Wig Design). The Stage Manager for this production is John Godbout and the Assistant Stage Manager is Tom Humes.

All the Way will take place in the Allen Theatre through October 9, 2016. Tickets range in price from $25-$100 each. Tickets may be ordered by phone by calling (216) 241-6000 or online by going to Groups of 10+ save up to 40% off single ticket prices; call (216) 400-7027.

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Who is Mark Horning?

Over the course of my life I have worked a variety of jobs including newspapers, retail camera sales and photography. Eight years ago I embarked on yet another career as writer. This included articles concerning sports and cultural events in Cleveland, Ohio as well reviews of the many theatrical productions around town. These days are spent photographing professional dance groups, theater companies and various galas and festivals as well as attending various stage performances and posting reviews about them.