Shawn Hamilton (left) as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Brandon Potter as President Lyndon Baines Johnson in Alley Theatre’s “All the Way” (Photo courtesy of Alley Theatre).
Paying Homage to a Real Hero to Black Community
Before the 2008 election of President Barack Obama, former President Lyndon B. Johnson might have held the title of the most popular president in Black America’s history.
Sure, former President Bill Clinton played the saxophone on “The Arsenio Hall Show” and smoked some marijuana as a youngster. But for many African-Americans, pretending to be “down” does not necessarily mean that you spent time down in the trenches fighting for Black rights.
Past commanders-in-chief like Johnson and former President Abraham Lincoln put their political careers and lives on the line for Black emancipation.
And regardless of their motives for doing so, it is extremely heartwarming to see stage plays like “All the Way,” shed light on the “accidental president” who purposefully did more for the Black community than many former presidents combined.
The stage play “All the Way,” which is playing at Houston’s Alley Theatre until Feb. 21, begins with the tragic assassination of former President John F. Kennedy and the beginning of Johnson’s accidental first year in the Oval Office.
Johnson (Brandon Potter) has the delicate task of allowing the country to mourn the loss of the beloved Kennedy while also doing enough to ensure that he remains in office after the 1964 presidential election.
He wants to work with Martin Luther King, Jr. (Shawn Hamilton) and Ralph Abernathy (David Rainey) of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) on civil rights legislation.
However, he must do so without offending Southern Democrats whom he needs in his corner to defeat Alabama Gov. George Wallace in the primary and Republican candidate Barry Goldwater in the general election.
But he has to give the Civil Rights Movement enough so they do not turn on King’s nonviolent tactics in favor of a more radical approach led by younger leaders like Stokely Carmichael (Adam Anderson) of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
“All the Way” is told in countdown style, beginning 11 months before the 1964 presidential election and concluding with the election night results.
The performances in “All the Way” are all the way stellar from top to bottom.
Potter’s portrayal of Johnson was equally strong and hilarious.
While no one, not even actor David Oyelowo of the movie “Selma” can truly mimic that power of King; Hamilton’s portrayal of King is also as spot on as possible, down to the slow Southern drawl he became known for.
Actress Michelle Elaine does a good job in her role as Coretta Scott King but soars to even greater heights with her performance as sharecropper and Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party leader Fannie Lou Hamer.
“All the Way” is very accurate down to Johnson’s strained relationship with Attorney General Robert Kennedy to NAACP leader Roy Wilkins’ unwillingness to seed power to the younger generation of Black leaders.
However, “All the Way” does use a lot of profanity.
It would be interesting to know if Johnson and King cursed and drank as much as depicted in “All the Way.”
Furthermore, Hamilton and Rainey seem a little too old for their roles as King and Abernathy, respectively.
Despite Johnson’s portrayed crass vocabulary, he is often not given enough credit for how he changed America for the better.
Many had hoped that Kennedy and his Camelot administration would usher in a new America.
But history had its own plans, and Johnson became the president that was all the way in on ushering America beyond its racist past.
“All the Way” will next hit the Dallas Theater Center after its run in Houston.