Last week, I saw All the Way on Broadway and came out thinking, “Well, this could have been a whole lot worse.”
As a self-described history nerd, and even more specifically the author of a novel centered on 1964, I came in pretty much determined to deconstruct the play. Reviews mostly focused on Bryan Cranston as Johnson, a scenery-chewing role. What took me by surprise, and frankly, disarmed me, was the portrayal of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee—the left flank of the Civil Rights Movement.
What a shock—seeing Abrams ruminate behind Bob Moses’s glasses (He should be thinner) or Stokely Carmichael (He should be taller) or the same petite and pretty woman playing Coretta Scott King take a turn as the formidable Fannie Lou Hamer (Now that was absolutely weird) and literally say things to Hubert Humphrey that I’d read in a dozen books about the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.
To my (limited) knowledge this was the first time that SNCC’s challenge to the Civil Rights establishment has been portrayed on stage. This challenge certainly was a minor plot point, a way for the audience to measure the degree to which Lyndon Johnson cared more about winning than he cared about justice, and in particular a crucible for Martin Luther King who Johnson strong-armed into supporting a compromise.
But wasn’t I over-the-moon? And don’t minor characters always get the best lines? And now I will quote Bob Moses himself who wrote, from jail in 1961: “This is a tremor from the middle of the iceberg—from a stone the builders rejected.”