Whereas Bryan Cranston’s Emmy-winning performance as Walter White in “Breaking Bad” felt internalized and psychologically intimate, he takes an oversized, huffing-and-puffing, accent-heavy approach to President Lyndon B. Johnson in “All the Way,” Robert Schenkkan’s three-hour, ensemble-driven history pageant.
Set during the tumultuous year following Kennedy’s assassination, “All the Way” observes LBJ engaging in behind-the-scenes political maneuvering to get civil rights legislation passed and win the 1964 election despite alarming resistance from southern Democrats and African-American leaders.
Numerous political figures are depicted including Martin Luther King (a smooth Brandon J. Dirden), J. Edgar Hoover (a worn out Michael McKean), Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (James Eckhouse), Governor George Wallace (Rob Campbell) and Senator Strom Thurmond (Christopher Gurr).
Schenkkan, who won the Pulitzer in 1992 for “The Kentucky Cycle,” takes a sprawling approach that is more representative of a Shakespearean history play than a contemporary narrative drama. It is stalled by countless subplots and lengthy depictions of internal squabbling among the political leaders, many of whom come off as broadly drawn.
Bill Rauch’s production is so visually widespread, with large projected images and actors sitting around a circular wooden chamber, that it diverts focus from Cranston, who violently shifts from a jocular presence who revels in southern fried wisdom and vulgarity to a neurotic, frustrated and seemingly tragic figure.
If you go
“All the Way” plays at the Neil Simon Theatre through June 29. 250 W. 52nd St., allthewaybroadway.com.