Bill Rauch’s Oregon Shakespeare Festival
It all started in a small Shakespeare-themed town called Ashland, Oregon. Bill Rauch, the artistic director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, is as prolific as he is revolutionary. Since taking on this position in 2007, Rauch has contributed a great deal to this already extraordinary year-round festival, which takes place in three beautiful theatres with one company of actors performing a dozen shows in repertory. One of his initiatives was to incorporate more historical themed shows, beyond Shakespeare’s history plays. And thus began his working relationship with Robert Schenkkan, the playwright who would go on to write the historical drama All The Way, which would go on to take Broadway by storm, directed by Bill Rauch. It is the story of United States president Lyndon B. Johnson, during the period of Civil Rights unrest in the 1960s, and Martin Luther King, Jr. is also a prominent character.
“All The Way” Begins Its Ascent To Vast Success
When All The Way transferred from Ashland, Oregon to New York, New York, it got an entirely new cast with one exception: the role of Walter Jenkins, the top aide to Lyndon Johnson, was still played by Oregon Shakespeare Festival company member Christopher Liam Moore, who is also the life partner of Bill Rauch. Most notably, for the Broadway production, the lead role of Lyndon B. Johnson was given to Bryan Cranston, who has built a lengthy career as a screen actor, and who has recently taken the world by storm in portraying Walter White on the television show Breaking Bad. With this beloved and relevant actor leading the cast, the excellent play was able to perform excellently at the box office. In the beginning of its run, the play was grossing a weekly average of $700,000 to $900,000, which is not shabby for a straight play on Broadway. However, once the Tony Awards nominations were on the horizon, the play broke through the million dollar mark, and the achievements continued from there.
Making Broadway History
All The Way won the Tony Award for Best Play, as well as the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play. Furthermore, Bryan Cranston won the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play. In the week immediately following the Tony Awards, the play’s box office performance soared to a weekly gross of $1,229,459. The following week, it grossed an outstanding $1,425,001, setting a new all-time sales record for a straight play on Broadway. But that was not all. In the week ending June 29, 2014, which was its final week of performances, All The Way grossed a phenomenal $1,623,495, once again breaking that record for the highest grossing straight play of all time on Broadway. One can only guess how well the show would have continued to do had it stayed open for more weeks, but unfortunately scheduling did not allow that hypothetical scenario to play out. In that last week, though, it already earned 118.66% of its gross potential, due to its sale of premium tickets. The average ticket price was a marvelous $141.62, and the top ticket price was $225.00. Somehow, of the total seats over 8 performances of 11,376, the show sold 11,464.
“The Great Society” – The Sequel To “All The Way”
This was a case where a straight play that began its run as a questionable bet became a slam dunk. Even with a star actor with equivalent fame to Bryan Cranston, many other plays have performed much less well. For All The Way, all the stars aligned, and the show went on to make Broadway history. Now, in this upcoming season at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Bill Rauch will direct Robert Schenkkan’s follow-up to All The Way, which is a play called The Great Society. Beginning performances July 27, 2014, this sequel spans the years 1965 to 1968, wherein Lyndon Johnson struggles to fight the war on poverty, while also reckoning with the war in Vietnam. Time will tell whether The Great Society will also transfer to Broadway, and whether Cranston might reprise his role, but with the outstanding success of All The Way, there is a high chance that it will.
Jennifer R Jones
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