Perspectives: What we learned about 'All the Way': Johnson gave a dam!

by John Moore | Feb 02, 2016
All the Way Perspectives 'All the Way' Perspectives conversation on Jan. 29 at The Jones Theatre, from left: Actor Todd Cerveris (Gov. George Wallace), Scenic Designer Robert Mark Morgan, Voice and Dialect Coach Jack Greenman, Costume Designer David Kay Mickelsen and Director Anthony Powell. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.



Perspectives
is a series of free panel conversations moderated by DCPA Theatre Company Literary Manager Douglas Langworthy. They take place from 6 p.m. to 6:45 on the evening of each production's first preview performance. The next Perspectives will be held Feb. 5 (discussing FADE) in the Jones Theatre. No reservations necessary.

Here’s some of what we learned from Langworthy’s conversation with cast and crew from All the Way, which imagines Lyndon Baines Johnson’s chaotic first year in office following the John F. Kennedy assassination and his sudden ascension to the presidency. His guests were Director Anthony Powell, Actor Todd Cerveris (Gov. George Wallace), Costume Designer David Kay Mickelsen, Voice and Dialect Coach Jack Greenman and Scenic Designer Robert Mark Morgan.

1 Perspectives Johnson gave a dam. All the Way covers the 11 months between the Kennedy assassination and when LBJ was elected to his own term. It was, in essence, a very public tryout for the job. And during that time, he successfully got the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed. "He would do whatever was necessary to get the job done,” said Powell, “including bullying or cajoling or giving you a dam.” That's DAM. Johnson, indeed, paved the way for Oklahoma’s Eufaula Dam, which was both needed and politically expedient. “Johnson had been head of the Senate for many years, and he was a master of parliamentary rules. And once he was in the presidency, he continued that kind of puppeteering and manipulation while trying to keep his fingerprints off it - which fooled no one.”  

2 Perspectives It's 1960s Shakespeare! Playwright Robert Schenkkan's work has been equated to Shakespeare's in terms of characters, structure and language. In addition to basic devices such as direct-address monologues that show a character thinking out loud as he comes to critical decisions, the bones of the play were intentionally structured like a Shakespearean history. “All the Way was originally commissioned by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and they wanted to tell a modern history in the form of what a Shakespeare history play might be like,” said Greenman. “So you see a lot of characters, and you get a lot of story and a lot of plot, and you have a central character to focus on."

And Powell says the central character of LBJ is “absolutely” Shakespearean in scope and complexity. “In fact, I saw a documentary on LBJ five years ago and I remember saying, ‘This is the American Lear.’ Because Vietnam came and destroyed everything he set out to do.”


John Moore's 2009 interview with Colorado native Angela Reed, wife of 'All the Way' actor Todd Cerveris.

3 Perspectives

Michael Cerveris, left, and Todd CerverisHe ain't heavy. What does actor Todd Cerveris have in common with Sweeney Todd? Cerveris, who plays Gov. George Wallace and other characters in All the Way, is the brother of two-time Tony Award-winning Broadway actor Michael Cerveris, whose credits include the Demon Barber. Michael won his first Tony in 1993 for The Who’s Tommy, and last year for playing the conflicted father in Fun Home opposite Castle Rock native Beth Malone. Todd Cerveris has appeared on Broadway in South Pacific and Twentieth Century. The brothers are active on social media and are often encouraging each other’s work on Twitter. “The bedeviling thing about my brother is that he's a nice guy,” said Todd. The pair know each other’s strengths, weaknesses and acting tools better than anyone, so they often play the role of coach or professional adviser to one another, Todd said. (Photo above: Michael Cerveris, left, and Todd Cerveris.)

Todd almost never followed in his big brother’s footsteps. “When I graduated from college, it made the most sense to go into theatre - which is why I didn't,” he said. “I spent about five years doing anything but (theatre). I drove a bike taxi for a while. I taught high-school English. I was a phlebotomist at a health clinic.”

But Todd has another significant, small-world ally in his theatrical corner. He is married to actor Angela Reed, who graduated from Ponderosa High School and the University of Colorado-Boulder. She is a Colorado Shakespeare Festival alum and starred in the DCPA Theatre Company’s 2006 production of After Ashley. She returned to Denver in 2009, playing all of the adult women in the national touring production of Spring Awakening.

“We understand each other,” Todd said. “We're good at talking each other off the cliff when either of us has been without a job for a long period of time.”

All The Way Photo gallery above: Your first look at the DCPA Theatre Company's production of 'All the Way.' To see more photos, click the forward button above. Credit: Adams Visual Communications.)

4 Perspectives Costume longevity: Costume Designer David Kay Mickelsen (pictured right) has been with the DCPA Theatre Company for 21 seasons. All the Way marks his 56th production, and it is a whopper. There are 20 actors in the cast, and all but three play multiple roles. But when you work with certain recurring actors over time, you develop a shortcut. Mickelsen has been outfitting Sam Gregory, for example, for nearly two decades. Gregory plays 10 characters in All the Way. Fitting an unknown actor for 10 costumes might normally take Mickelsen half a day. He was done with Gregory in 45 minutes. "That includes 10 costumes, wigs and mustaches,” Mickelsen said. “But I have dressed Sam so many times, I know how to fit him. I know how he carries himself. I know what I can hand him that he will turn into something wonderful.” Cerveris said the challenge of playing multiple roles is making each character distinct. It's essential for the audience to follow the story - and costumes are only one tool at their disposal. Others include wigs, dialect, posture and vocal variance. "Sometimes the pieces can be very simple but very profound, like a shock of white hair or a pair of glasses,” Cerveris said.

5 Perspectives Common cause? In his research, Powell found himself constantly challenging the history he was taught in school. Perhaps most significantly, he found that certain groups you might assume would be in ideological lock-step “were absolutely not,” he said. “Everybody had a different idea about how to affect change in America, and people you thought might be on the same side were often at each others' throats. MLK was thought by some to be outmoded by age 35. The Black Power movement was coming up, and they were going, 'We have no time for you and your nonviolence.' When the Watts riots happened, Dr. King went to L.A. to try to help, and black audiences booed him. He was told he wasn’t wanted there.”


Photo gallery: The making of All the Way:


All the Way in Denver Photo gallery above: The making of the DCPA Theatre Company's production of 'All the Way in Denver.' To see more photos, click the forward button above. Photos by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter. 



All the Way
: Ticket information

  • All the WayJan. 29-Feb. 28 at the Stage Theatre
  • Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
  • TTY: 303-893-9582
  • Groups of 15 or more: 303-446-4829
  • Also: Purchase in person at The Denver Center Ticket Office, located at the Helen Bonfils Theatre Complex lobby. Buy and print online at DenverCenter.Org.

  • Previous NewsCenter coverage of All the Way
    Video: Cast reads from Civil Rights Act
    When Robert Schenkkan meets LBJ, sparks fly
    Five ways you don't have to connect the dots 'All the Way' to today
    Art and Artist: Stage Manager Rachel Ducat

    Full casting announced
    Official show page
    DCPA Theatre Company giddily going down rabbit hole in 2015-16

    Meet the Cast Profiles (to date)
    Meet Paul DeBoy
    Meet Mike Hartman

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    ABOUT THE EDITOR
    John Moore
    John Moore
    Award-winning arts journalist John Moore has recently taken a groundbreaking new position as the DCPA’s Senior Arts Journalist. With The Denver Post, he was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the US by American Theatre Magazine. He is the founder of the Denver Actors Fund, a nonprofit that raises money for local artists in medical need. John is a native of Arvada and attended Regis Jesuit High School and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Follow him on Twitter @moorejohn.

    DCPA is the nation’s largest not-for-profit theatre organization dedicated to creating unforgettable shared experiences through beloved Broadway musicals, world-class plays, educational programs and inspired events. We think of theatre as a spark of life — a special occasion that’s exciting, powerful and fun. Join us today and we promise an experience you won't soon forget.