The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis’ “All the Way” opens Friday night and takes on subject matter from the 1960s that may seem just as pertinent in theaters today as it would have back then. The Rep’s 49th season opener focuses on the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson, one of the most controversial presidents in recent memory, as he navigates the civil rights era and the Vietnam War, mincing no words along the way.
“There’s a famous quote that once Lyndon Johnson got the Civil Rights Act through Congress, the Democrats would lose the South,” director Steve Woolf said. “He said, ‘We’ve lost the South forever.’ It’s because of the Civil Rights Act. That was 50 years ago along with Medicare, a big farm bill, a tax cut and he signed the enabling legislation for PBS. It’s an amazing amount of stuff.”
“You’re talking taxes, health, and race relations,” said actor Brian Dykstra, who stars in the lead role as Lyndon B. Johnson. “Here we are.”
“Yeah, what year is that?” added Woolf.
For many, Johnson’s influential leadership in getting the U.S. involved in the Vietnam War eclipsed his accomplishments with civil rights. Dykstra’s personal understanding of Johnson, who became the “accidental president” after John F. Kennedy’s assassination when Dykstra was three, was more shadowed by his negative view of LBJ. Both he and Woolf recalled a chant made popular by the musical “Hair,” which went “Hey, Hey LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?”
That made the discovery of Johnson’s complicated history all the more fascinating to Dykstra.
“He goes from charming you to getting your vote to what seems like extortion some of the time—it’s like everything’s on the table,” Dykstra said. “The politics, he was a consummate player. And he loved it. Otherwise he would not be that good.”
The Tony-award winning play that debuted in 2012 focuses specifically on the first 11 months of Johnson’s presidency, from the time of Kennedy’s assassination to when he was reelected, a fruitful period of his time in office, that included the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Dykstra shared a line from the play, which shows the more palatable side of the President from what he knew as a child:
“As a Southerner, I’ve had to bite my tongue on this until my mouth was full of blood but not anymore. “Now, I’m the president and if you can’t do what’s right, what’s the point of being president?”
Listen below to hear more about the production, including the 19 players who take on 45 different roles, which opens Friday night and runs through Oct. 4 in Webster Groves at the Loretto-Hilton Center for Performing Arts.
"All The Way"
When: Now through October 4, 2015
Where: Loretto-Hilton Center for Performing Arts, 130 Edgar Rd, Webster Groves, MO 63119
"Cityscape” is produced by Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer, and Kelly Moffitt and sponsored in part by the Missouri Arts Council, the Regional Arts Commission, and the Arts and Education Council of Greater St. Louis.