‘The Great Society,’ About L.B.J., Is Coming to Broadway
As soon as the Tony-winning “All the Way” closed on Broadway, the playwright, Robert Schenkkan, began working on a sequel.
Five years, endless rewrites and several productions later, that new play, “The Great Society,” is coming to Broadway.
The producer Jeffrey Richards announced on Thursday that he would present a 12-week run of the play, starting Sept. 6, at the Vivian Beaumont Theater (that theater, although located at Lincoln Center, is considered a Broadway house).
The play will star Brian Cox (“Succession”) as President Johnson; Marc Kudisch (“Finding Neverland”) as the Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley, Grantham Coleman (“Much About Nothing”) as Martin Luther King Jr., and Richard Thomas (“The Little Foxes”) as Hubert H. Humphrey. The production will be directed by Bill Rauch, who also directed “All the Way.”
“All the Way,” which starred Bryan Cranston both onstage and in a subsequent television adaptation, ended in November, 1964, when Johnson, who became president upon the assassination of John F. Kennedy, won election to a full term. “The Great Society” follows Johnson until March, 1968, when he announced that he would not seek re-election.
“It chronicles the high-water mark of the programs of the Great Society, and the growing tragedy in Vietnam,” said Mr. Schenkkan, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992 for “The Kentucky Cycle.” “It’s an extraordinarily dramatic period, and absolutely urgent — in many ways, I think of it as the origin story for our present political crisis.”
“‘All the Way’ is a drama,” he added, “and ‘The Great Society’ is a tragedy.”
The play was first staged at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2014, and then at the Seattle Repertory Theater in 2015 (where it ran in rep with “All the Way”). It has had several subsequent runs, including in 2017 at Asolo Repertory Theater in Sarasota, Fla., and last year at the Alley Theater in Houston, the Arena Stage in Washington and the Dallas Theater Center. Mr. Schenkkan said it has “changed considerably” along the way. “I wanted to get this right, and I’ve taken my time,” he said. “Now I feel the script is absolutely right and tight and ready for New York.”
The play is a commercial production, with a team led by Mr. Richards, taking place in a nonprofit house, Lincoln Center Theater. The producers are renting the space from the nonprofit, according to a spokesman for Lincoln Center Theater, but the nonprofit’s members will have an early opportunity to purchase tickets (starting Monday) and the theater is credited as a co-producer; the arrangement is similar to that of “Ann” in 2013.
Mr. Schenkkan, who wrote a play, “Building the Wall,” about the Trump era, as well as the script for a recent live reading of the Mueller report, said he believes his new play has resonance in today’s political climate. “It is a cautionary tale of presidential power,” he said. “There was a fight in 1964 over the vision for this country — who we are, what we stand for, what does it mean to be an American — and boy, does that sound familiar.”
Michael Paulson is the theater reporter. He previously covered religion, and was part of the Boston Globe team whose coverage of clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. @MichaelPaulson
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