'A triumph for OSF'

The reviews are glowing; the limited run is nearly sold out. Robert Schenkkan's "All the Way" is a genuine Broadway hit. And Bill Rauch, the show's director and Oregon Shakespeare Festival artistic director, couldn't be more pleased.

"This is a really big deal for OSF," says Rauch. "The play is successful on Broadway because of the actors and the design team who brought it to life here at the festival.

"We cast New York actors for the American Repertory Theatre production in Cambridge, Mass., last September and for the Broadway run," says Rauch. "They were wonderful. But I missed our OSF actors every day of rehearsal. It was the OSF actors who worked so hard with me to fashion this play."

OSF's design team from "All the Way" did both the ART and Broadway productions. Scenic design is by Christopher Acebo, costumes are by Deborah M. Dryden, music and sound are by Paul James Prendergast, and projection design is by Shawn Sagady.

"Even though the lighting designer, Jane Cox, was not with the OSF production, she has worked with us many times," Rauch adds.

Schenkkan wrote "All the Way" as a commission from OSF's American Revolutions: The United States History Cycle, a 10-year project of new work portraying pivotal moments of change in American history.

"All the Way" depicts President Lyndon B. Johnson's contentious and nation-changing first year in office as he seeks to forge his own legacy by passing the Civil Rights Act. The play debuted during OSF's 2012 season.

In February 2013, "All the Way" was named co-winner of the inaugural Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama Inspired by American History.

"Theaters all around the country wanted to produce it," Rauch says. "The question was: Who would do it next and where would it go from there?"

Schenkkan knew the play could make it on Broadway. Schenkkan's friend, Broadway producer Jeffrey Richards, came out to OSF during the play's run and thought so, too.

Schenkkan and Richards met when Schenkkan's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, "The Kentucky Cycle," was produced on Broadway in 1993, and Richards, a publicist, did the press and marketing.

Schenkkan and Richards joined with OSF board member Louise Gund and another Broadway producer, Jerry Frankel, to fashion a path to Broadway for "All the Way."

First, they picked ART for the next production. Considered, like OSF, an outstanding regional theater, ART was close enough to New York to woo critics and audiences.

Rauch, of course, would direct.

Next, they knew they needed a celebrity lead who was also a brilliant actor. What about Bryan Cranston — winner of three consecutive Emmy Awards for the twisted chemistry-professor-turned-drug-kingpin Walter White in "Breaking Bad"?

Cranston came out to OSF last summer, met with Rauch, saw some plays, and the rest is history.

"The stage in Broadway's Neil Simon Theater is quite a bit smaller than the stage in OSF's Bowmer Theatre," says Rauch. "We had to reduce the size of the set and found that it had the effect of making it more of a pressure cooker. The action became more compressed, more intense.

"We are filling the seats in the Neil Simon — a large theater usually booked with musicals. There is no doubt that Bryan Cranston is bringing a new audience to the theater, fans of 'Breaking Bad' who may never have been to a Broadway play before."

Due to Cranston's other commitments, "All the Way" runs until June 29.

"This is a triumph for OSF," says Rauch. "Great plays get created by the quality of actors and artisans like those at OSF."

"I am proud that we create productions that are so outstanding, so vital, that theaters around the country want to produce them."

Roberta Kent is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at rbkent@mind.net.

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