Review: ‘All The Way’ takes us on the demanding, knotty path to progress

Grand Rapids Civic Theatre’s “All The Way” opens with the three dramatic gunshots that killed President John F. Kennedy, the mood was set somber as Vice President Lyndon Baine Johnson was sworn in as president.

Although hefty with dialogue and lengthy, actors Jon March and Eddie Stephens clearly display their passion in their roles as Johnson and Martin Luther King, Jr. respectively. While LBJ is clearly the main character of the story, King is a close lead in his instrumental role of that time. The characters are often disagreeing but work together as best they can towards civil rights. Both March and Stephens represented their characters well, down to the accents, voices and physical mannerisms.

The show was representative of the era, complete with backdrops of actual photos and documents of the time. Playwright Robert Schenkkan smartly used historical documents and recordings to create the plot and dialogue. The actors and director created an atmosphere that made the audience feel as if they were actually there living it as well. The clever use of a camera is worth noting, as it showed the actual event happening, along with a reflection of it behind the cast, as if we were also watching a black and white television screen.

While very informative and necessary for everyone to learn and understand, the extensive dialogue and length of the show proved to be just a little hard to follow at times. If the audience member is not too familiar with the events and political figures of that time, it can be a confusing plot to keep up with. Despite some slow moments, the plot did move quickly through the years 1963-1965.

But the cast did very well and barely missed a beat throughout the two-hour and 45-minute show, and proved to make excellent use of their own historical research. Other well-performing actors included Dave Benson (Hubert Humphrey), Devon Jordan (Roy Wilkins, Reverend Dennis, Aaron Henry), G.M. “Bud” Thompson (Richard Russell) and Liam Tichelaar (George Wallace).

The first act ended with the passing of the Civil Rights Act, with King and many others disappointed that voting rights were taken out of that bill. After a 15-minute intermission, the second act moved into preparations for the upcoming election, with Johnson hoping for a reelection. Tensions rise, and both good and bad sides are shown of both Johnson and King. Thunder rumbles as the countdown to the election intensifies. The play ends with Johnson winning the election and Coretta Scott King finding out that her husband has had an affair.

This show reminds us of the gritty details — many times, not so good — of politics. If anything, a showgoer can expect to learn a lot about this important moment in U.S. history and find a couple laughs along the way.

All The Way
Grand Rapids Civic Theatre
Jan. 12-28