PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: All The Way — "Happy Birthday, Mister President"

By Harry Haun
07 Mar 2014

Brandon J. Dirden
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN
Roslyn Ruff, who played Dirden's sister in the recent Off-Broadway revival of The Piano Lesson, plays Coretta Scott King here, among several other characters. "I have a special affinity for Fannie Lou Hamer," she said of one, a woman who was beaten and raped for trying to register to vote in Dixie. "It's a real testimony too. She gave an eight-minute testimony at the 1964 Democratic National Convention."

Dirden's wife, Crystal A. Dickinson, who played his wife in Clybourne Park, was beaming about her husband's performance of Dr. King. "He did a lot of reading for this and brought a lot of dignity and dimension to the role, I thought," she said. "I got to tell him in his dressing room right after the show." The two are expecting a baby, due April 1. 

Another cast member new to parenthood is Rob Campbell, who has a month-old boy with actress-wife Ana Reeder. Father is doing fine in this play, playing a thorn in LBJ's side, Gov. George Wallace, and the journalist John Lithgow played in The Columnist, Joseph Alsop. "Do you know what this is like? It's like what the Elizabethans experienced when they were going to see Shakespeare's history plays premiere."

Richard Poe lends his revivalist rhetoric and Jeffersonian jawline (always helpful in historical pieces) to the role of Sen. Everett Dirksen, and John McMartin does some delectable Southern-fried scene-stealing as Georgia Senator Richard Russell.

Old-pro McMartin had kind words for new-pro Cranston: "He's protein. He never stops working. He rehearsed with us all day and went through this three-hour show at night. He went through the bad colds we all went through and never whined. He has the energy of a 20-year-old. I really admire an actor who goes the distance."

As befits a big show, the after-party was splashed across the lower level of 30 Rock in The Restaurants of Rockefeller Center overlooking the skating rink where a handful glided by, making living scenery of themselves. (Were they paid for this?)

Roslyn Ruff
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader of the House of Representatives, and Doris Kearns Goodwin, the biographer of Lincoln, provided some political color to the evening, as did Ted Kennedy Jr. and Anne Kiki Gershman and newsfolk like Charlie Rose, Gayle King and Dan Rather.

Rob Ashford, the Tony-winning choreographer who is developing a serious rep in London as a director of heavy-duty drama, has set up Kenneth Branaugh for his long-overdue New York acting debut. The Scottish Play that they did in the Manchester festival last summer will be coming to the Armory, he said, at the end of May. "Alex Kingston is Lady Macbeth, and we will be opening on June 5."

Christine Baranski floated into the theatre still high from the night before, when she saw the also-long-time-in-coming NYC bow of the first and former Mrs. Kenneth Branaugh, Emma Thompson, playing Mrs. Lovett in the New York Philharmonic's Sweeney Todd. "It made me see how much I miss doing theatre," said "The Good Wife" star.

Atlantic Theater Company kingpin Neil Pepe said they're in tech for Martha Clarke's The Threepenny Opera with Laura Osnes, F. Murray Abraham, Lilli Cooper and Mary Beth Peil. "Then, we're getting ready for Stephen Adly Guirgis' new play in June, Between Riverside and Crazy— and then Our New Girl on our second stage by an Irish writer, Nancy Harris."

Jason Robert Brown, who composed last week's Jeff Richards show, The Bridges of Madison County, arrived with his best girl, Georgia Stitt. Other two-by-twos: Eric Bogasian and director-wife Jo Bonney; the Brighton Beach bros, Santino Fontana and Noah Robbins; Celia Keenan-Bolger, fresh from The Glass Menagerie, and hubby John Ellison Conlee, fresh from The (Curious Case of the) Watson Inteligence, plotting a getaway to L.A.; Jamie de Roy and lyricist-director David Zippel; The Realistic Joneses' Tracy Letts and his wife and "Honey" from Virginia Woolf, Carrie Coon; crooner Gregory Generet and actress-wife Tamara Tunie; song-and-dancers Derrick Baskin and d'Adre Aziza; director-choreographer Kathleen Marshall and producer-hubby Scott Landis.

As well as: director David Schweizer, who's bringing Mike Albo's solo piece, The Junket, to the Lynn Redgrave Theatre March 13; Picnic's Sebastian Stan; Josh Lucas, currently of "The Good Wife;" S. Epatha Merkerson, late of "Law and Order;" Brian J. Smith, late of The Glass Menagerie; Bill Irwin, talking up an Old Hats reprise; Of Mice and Men's Chris O'Dowd; Michael Cumpsty, late of Machinal; Irish Rep's Charlotte Moore; Norman Reedus; Joshua Dallas; Jennifer Morrison, Colin O'Donoghue, Ronan Farrow, Hank Azaria; Dr. Ruth Westheimer; Elizabeth Ashley; Carmen Ruby Floyd; Jacqueline Murphy; and a horde of directors (Pippin's Diane Paulus, Of Mice and Men's Anna D. Shapiro, A Trip to Bountiful's Michael Wilson and Dinner With Friends' Pam MacKinnon).