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CSC’s “All The Way” Proves Gripping and Thought Provoking

Review by Nathan Top of “All The Way”: Cincinnati Shakespeare Company

Written by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning playwright Robert Schenkkan, “All The Way” begins with Vice President Lyndon Johnson taking on his new role as POTUS immediately following the Kennedy assasination. The rest of the show revolves around President Johnson’s first year in office, where he must navigate members of Congress and civil rights leaders to support the Civil Rights Act of 1964, all while running for reelection.

Under the direction of Brian Isaac Phillips and assistant directed by Darnell Pierre Benjamin, the lengthy script moves as a fast-paced political thriller. Major beats fly by, keeping the audience on their toes and grabbing the them by heart along the entire way.  The versatile and fluid set, designed by Shannon Moore, allows the scenes, locations, and timeline to breeze by cinematically. The pre-recorded and in-the-moment projections, designed by G. “Max” Maxin IV, further the audience’s envelopment in the world and provide necessary exposition for the show. Lighting designer Justen N. Locke adds to the dramatic blocking of the show, especially during staged phone call conversations, and sound designer Douglas J. Borntrager delivers a flawless evening of well-timed sound cues and rapid-paced dialogue from the actors projected crystal clear.

Jim Hopkins carries the show as the captivating President Lyndon B. Johnson, giving us a heavily layered performance grounded with subtext. Hopkins is fascinating to watch, capturing the many contrasting sides of President Johnson, from bully to victim, champion to politician, conqueror to defeated.  We root for this character for the entire duration of the show, not because he is always right but because he is consistently compelling.  

Sylvester Little, Jr. gives a highly nuanced performance of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., chronicling the fall arc of minister and activist discovered to be not-a-saint. Little is a strong foil to Hopkins, with Dr. King acting as a pillar of virtue in contrast to President Johnson, who must utilize tactics and compromise to maneuver the bureaucracy of Congress. This is highlighted in a scene during the second act when the two men simultaneously deliver iconic speeches to two different audiences, both contrasting in receptivity. 

The rest of the large and talented cast doubles as two or more characters apiece. Katie Wilford, while playing several roles, stands out as Lady Bird Johnson, the strong and loving First Lady of President Johnson. The show is riddled with riveting and heartbreaking monologues from several characters. 

Since the show runs for about three hours, make sure you put enough change into the parking meter but, whatever you do, do not miss this show. “All The Way” runs now through February 15th.  Tickets can be purchased at https://cincyshakes.com/buy-tickets-for-all-the-way/