Can The Great Society Show Audiences a Way Forward By Looking Back? | Playbill

Opening Night Can The Great Society Show Audiences a Way Forward By Looking Back? The cast and creative team of Robert Schenkkan’s All the Way sequel talked to Playbill on opening night.
Brian Cox Joseph Marzullo/WENN

The sequel was already finished before All The Way won the Tony Award for Best Play in 2014. Playwright Robert Schenkkan and director Bill Rauch were flying out of New York with script notes in one hand and a Tony in the other, heading to the world premiere of The Great Society at Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Five years later, the play opened on Broadway at Vivian Beaumont Theatre October 1. “I'm feeling really proud, relieved, and honored to have worked with this incredible company,” said Rauch.

Schenkkan said the play parallels today’s tumultuous news cycle. “The whole notion of the morality of politics is up for grabs. If you believe that you are right, does that justify anything? Is winning the sum total of it all? Does it matter?”

For his part, Olivier Award winner Brian Cox (Titus Andronicus) said Lyndon B. Johnson is a fascinating American to play. “He was a peasant, really, and started off as a teacher then became an American president.” Not only was the character wonderful to tap into, the thespian discovered an acting muscle he hadn’t flexed in years. “The story is very Shakespearean. This other animal from 30 years ago stepped in and it was quite extraordinary,” Cox said. “I’ve played King Lear, Titus, was like [this strong leader] just stumbled out of me.”

READ: How Succession’s Brian Cox Found His Voice for LBJ in Broadway’s The Great Society

Bryce Pinkham (A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder) didn’t use Shakespeare to tap into playing Bobby Kennedy—he used Netflix. Watching Bobby Kennedy for President gave the Tony nominee a deep look at the relationship between LBJ and Kennedy. “I wanted to try and get behind what he was really feeling. They really didn't like each other, I think they both wanted the same things but in different ways.”

Emmy winner Gordon Clapp (NYPD Blue), who plays J. Edgar Hoover, enjoyed listening to the real tapes between the 36th president and the infamous FBI director. “[It was interesting] to hear how they flattered each other a lot. They were very much pretending to have this great friendship.”

Lucille Lortell nominee Marchánt Davis (Ain’t No Mo’), who plays Stokely Charmichael and John Lewis, said “[Charmichael’s] the one person that, especially among the black characters, speaks his mind 100 percent of the time. He doesn’t care what you think, and he’s fighting for what he believes.”

READ: The Secret Ingredient of Broadway’s LBJ Drama The Great Society

For Grantham Coleman (Choir Boy), who plays Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it was an honor to continue the civil rights leader’s legacy. “I think that what the show does is remind us that these rights and amendments are written down. They are voted for, they are passed, and they are challenges that we’ve been fighting as a society for years. We have to be participants in society, we can’t assume that these rights are ours to have, we have to fight for them every day.”

Three-time Tony nominee Marc Kudisch (9 to 5) had a similar thought of working together as a community. “We need to be reminded of how truly challenging it is to take care of each other," he said. "That’s what it is to live in a great society. Our rights were hard fought, hard won, and should never be as casually handled as the current administration.”

Check out photos from opening night below.

Inside Opening Night of The Great Society on Broadway

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