This Week on Stage: Bryan Cranston goes 'All the Way'

all-the-way

Image Credit: Evgenia Eliseeva

“I have made a series of very bad decisions and I cannot make another one” was a line once spoken by Breaking Bad‘s Walter White, but it couldn’t be less true of the actor who said it. The one and only Bryan Cranston — on an impeccable roll for the last few years — has just made his Broadway debut to ecstatic notices for his lived-in, charged Lyndon Baines Johnson in All the Way, and early pundits indicate he may be the man to beat at Tony time. (Though not so fast, he still has heavy-hitters like Denzel Washington, Michael C. Hall, and Daniel Radcliffe to fend off in the next two months). In other news, King Kong is delaying plans to open this fall, making way for a revival of On the Town (which played to great acclaim in Massachusetts last season) to fill the barn-like parameters of the newly-named Lyric Theatre, vacant since Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark swung out in January to soon set up camp in Las Vegas. And the boards are ablaze with new shows in and out NYC (click on the links below for the full reviews):

All the Way: LBJ is represented in full in the first of a pair of plays about the former POTUS (the second, also by playwright Robert Schenkkan, is due this summer in Oregon), and Bryan Cranston holds court for the three-hour epic, which also features notable 60s figures MLK, Jr, J. Edgar Hoover, Stokely Carmichael and many more. Does All the Way end up scoring? Senior editor Thom Geier found Cranston most presidential in the lead role: “While Cranston may never pass for LBJ’s doppelgänger, he embraces the role’s showmanship and physicality with gusto, close-talking and buttonholing and tie-grabbing to make his case. Even Walter White would be intimidated.” EW grade: B+

Antony and Cleopatra: Up-and-coming playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney transposes Shakespeare’s battle-of-the-sexes masterwork to 1800s Haiti in a reimagining “radical edit” of the classic. But Melissa Rose Bernardo found it could have possibly used more, stating that “McCraney’s concept isn’t as jarring as you might imagine”, but adds “without a sizzling central couple, this Antony and Cleopatra (previously staged in London and Miami) just sort of lurches along from Egypt to Rome—or from Haiti to France—and from spats and semi-truces to stabbings and suicides.” EW grade: C

Beaches: The Bette Midler-Barbara Hershey-Mayim Bialik weepie from 1988 (and the source of about a half of Kleenex’s business in said period) gets a full-scale musical tryout in Arlington, VA, with nearly two dozen new songs (but no fretting, “The Wind Beneath My Wings” is included). Was it everything Melissa Rose Bernardo would like it to be? It doesn’t fly higher than an eagle, but her review says that “novelist Iris Rainer Dart wisely simplifies her flashback-filled, globe-trotting story of childhood friends… [but] Beaches is far from a shore thing.” EW grade: B-

The Happiest Song Plays Last: Pulitzer Prize-winner Quiara Alegría Hudes concludes her acclaimed Elliot trilogy (after 2012’s Water By the Spoonful) with this Latin music-flavored look at Elliot’s adventures in Middle Eastern moviemaking post-infantry and his ongoing correspondence with his politically active cousin in Philadelphia. My review has kind words for the well-directed piece: “Hudes has an admirable affection for her characters, and director Ruben Santiago-Hudson proves that he is a deft handler of ensembles and shifts of tone…Song carries a good tune, but is still a few hits short of a classic album.” EW grade: B

The Open House: Before Will Eno makes his first Broadway leap with the star-studded play The Realistic Joneses next week, playgoers can witness him on an Off Broadway stage in this new black comedy about a vitriolic patriarch who wreaks havoc on his family. Stephan Lee felt it was a welcome addition to the onslaught of dysfunctional family plays of recent years, noting “the family drama is probably the most ubiquitous stage genre there is…but in The Open House, just as the misery and back-biting starts to feel excessive — even indulgent — Eno takes a left turn and finds a way to make harmony as radical and satisfying as discord. EW grade: B+

Satchmo at the Waldorf: Louis Armstrong-the world-famous trumpeter and now-raconteur-gets a new solo play by Wall Street Journal theater critic Terry Teachout, performed by classical-play master John Douglas Thompson as a profanity-spewing septuagenrian in his final run of perfomances. Critic Nick Catucci praises the soloist’s prowess: “Thompson effectively draws out his rage at those trials, without downplaying his instinct for showmanship and flashes of pure joy”, but finds fault with some of its content, noting that “Teachout surely could’ve held out for a less demeaning metaphor for hidden suffering and powerlessness than incontinence.” EW grade: B

Stage Kiss: Sarah Ruhl-known for quirky, searching works such as The Clean House and In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play, attempts farce in this backstage look at a former couple forced to play romantic leads in a revival play of an old chestnut, which turns out have Noises Off-like offstage drama threatening the outcome. Thom Geier was captured in the spell of Ruhl’s meta meddling, but only up to a point: “As directed by Rebecca Taichman, the comic climax doesn’t quite hit the heights of hilarity we’ve been led to expect, and the twisty denouement lands with more of a whimper than a bang. Still, Stage Kiss is satisfyingly clever enough to be worth a buss stop. EW grade: B+

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