‘The Great Society’ review: Lyndon B. Johnson play an action-packed drama

Turbulence takes over and a president’s ambitious domestic agenda gets derailed by overwhelming racial prejudice and an out-of-control foreign war in “The Great Society” — a long-winded but action-packed roller-coaster of a historical drama by Robert Schenkkan examining the final years of the presidency of Lyndon Baines Johnson, from his 1964 election through the inauguration of Richard Nixon four years later. “The Great Society” is a follow-up to “All the Way,” which dramatized the yearlong period between the assassination of JFK on Nov. 22, 1963, making LBJ president, to the 1964 election. Whereas Bryan Cranston played LBJ in “All the Way” on Broadway in 2014 and in a subsequent HBO film adaptation, Scottish actor Brian Cox (who is currently playing media baron Logan Roy on the HBO series “Succession”) has taken over as the 36th president. Bill Rauch, who directed “All the Way,” is also at the helm of “The Great Society.” To read more, click here.

Brian Cox knows why ‘Succession’ reminds you of the Trumps: ‘It’s about entitlement’

“I could tell you,” says Brian Cox, taking a sip of his iced matcha latte, “but then I’d have to kill you.”

A few hours before going onstage to play Lyndon B. Johnson in “The Great Society,” the actor is in his dressing room at the Vivian Beaumont theater, coolly deflecting speculation about who will be the “blood sacrifice” — the person to take the fall for a corporate scandal threatening to bring down a media dynasty — in the much-anticipated season finale of “Succession,” which is set to air two days after our interview. It’s exactly the sort of thing his character in the HBO drama, a Rupert Murdoch-esque conservative mogul named Logan Roy, would say — but might actually mean. The bluntly profane patriarch — last seen smirking elusively in the closing shot of the season — has made the 73-year-old character actor into an unlikely social media darling, the subject of myriad GIFs and memes. Cox, who is active in the Scottish National Party and describes himself as a socialist, doesn’t have much in common with Logan politically, but the character has been shaped in his image: Both men are from working-class Catholic families in Dundee, Scotland, and lost parents at a young age.

Days after wrapping production of “Succession” in Croatia, Cox returned to New York to begin three weeks of breakneck preparation for “The Great Society,” trading his gentle burr for a Texan drawl he practices by listening to LBJ’s White House tapes. A follow-up to the Tony-winning “All the Way,” which starred Bryan Cranston as Johnson, Robert Schenkkan’s nearly three-hour play charts the president’s final years in office as the war in Vietnam escalates and undermines his progressive domestic legacy. Next month, Cox will appear in the film “The Etruscan Smile” as a cantankerous, terminally ill Scotsman who bonds with his infant grandson. To read more, click here.

How Theater Is Tackling Current Events, From Donald Trump to Hillary Clinton to RBG (Guest Blog)

In dark and divisive political times, many seek escapist entertainment, particularly at the multiplex. (Think “Downton Abbey.”) The cynics among us can stream Ryan Murphy’s latest series “The Politician,” which takes a dark and comedic look at a young man trying to do the right thing, albeit for the wrong reasons. Those nostalgic for a kinder, gentler presidency can always tune in to “The West Wing,” moving next year from Netflix to HBO Max. But it is in the theater world where audiences are currently exploring the sins of the distant past — slavery, racism, sexism anti-Semitism — through the lens of today. “You can’t understand where we are if you don’t understand where we were,” Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Schenkkan said. To read more, click here.

Grantham Coleman on 'Not Impersonating' Martin Luther King Jr. in The Great Society

Grantham Coleman is currently doing something he never thought he'd do; playing Martin Luther King Jr. alongside Brian Cox in The Great Society on Broadway. Eight times a week, Coleman helps bring history to life in the continuation of Robert Schenkkan's Tony-winning All the Way and he stopped by's #LiveatFive to talk about the experience. "I am a bit of a history buff, so when I got the script, I needed to know more," he said to Paul Wontorek. "I got into a wormhole and kept thinking, 'Wow, this is still happening today.' Growing up, I always looked up to Martin Luther King Jr., so I knew a lot of his history, but I didn't know about him and LBJ and how it all crumbled." To read more, click here.

Brian Cox on What Logan Roy and Lyndon B. Johnson Have in Common

The 'Succession' patriarch discusses returning to Broadway for the first time in eight years to play the 36th American president in 'The Great Society.' A Broadway play was the last thing Brian Cox thought he'd be doing right now. He had planned to enjoy the early fall at his house in the country and relax after wrapping filming on HBO's Succession, which aired its nail-biter season two finale on Sunday night. So when director Bill Rauch asked Cox to be a part of a staged reading of Robert Schenkkan's The Great Society, which explores the second half of Lyndon B. Johnson's presidency, he hesitantly accepted. (Schenkkan covered the first half in All the Way, which earned Tony Awards for best play and lead actor Bryan Cranston in 2014.) When Rauch later asked if he could do a full production, Cox was skeptical, given that it left him only three weeks to prepare after the end of shooting. "It was the quickest transition ever. I didn't think I was going to do it," Cox said. "With the help of others I was able to achieve it. But it was really quite scary to be honest with you. To read more, click here.


When Scottish stage and screen actor Brian Cox was first approached about playing American president Lyndon Baines Johnson in The Great Society, it was for a dramatic reading. Cox was wrapping the second season of the hit HBO series Succession — in which he plays outsized (fictional) media mogul Logan Roy — and, after reading Society, the follow-up to Robert Schenkkan’s Tony Award–winning play, All the Way, he was instantly game. To read more, click here.

“The Great Society” Opens on Broadway, “Succession” Star Brian Cox Gets A List Crowd Including Former US Senator Bill Bradley

I’m a little late to the table on the new Broadway hit, “The Great Society.” That’s because everyone got home late Tuesday night after a smashing opening and party at the newly renovated Red Eye Grill on Seventh Avenue.

Among the guests was former US Senator and basketball great Bill Bradley, who certainly appreciated Robert Schenkkan’s second play about President Lyndon Baines Johnson. The first installment, “All the Way,” won a ton of prizes for the playwright and the star, Bryan Cranston.

Part 2, so to speak, focuses on LBJ’s descent into madness over the Vietnam War even while still pursuing his Civil Rights causes and historic legislation. Vietnam simply overwhelmed Johnson, and Cox, I thought, brilliantly conveyed that through Schenkkan’s cleverly constructed architecture. Cox had just three weeks of rehearsal, he told me, coming off his hit run on the HBO drama, “Succession.” He plays LBJ as a King Lear type, a slowly dissolving leader who can’t read the signs of his own demise. He’s quite brilliant. To read more, click here.

Brian Cox used ‘muscle memory’ to tackle ‘The Great Society’ role

Brian Cox had no intention of tackling a meaty character like Lyndon Baines Johnson in Robert Schenkkan’s “The Great Society.” He’d moved away from big theater roles to focus on parts in movies and television, most prominently HBO’s “Succession,” on which he plays Logan Roy, the founder of a media empire.

“At my age,” says Cox, 73, “I should be watching the daisies grow.”

He signed on to do a staged reading of “The Great Society” for “a nice fee,” but it went so well, director Bill Rauch approached him about doing a full-scale production.

Cox hadn’t played such a gigantic role since he did King Lear, nearly 30 years ago. Though terrified, he said yes, and hired an old dresser friend to “beat the lines into me.” And then something “bizarre” happened: “My old self, the young man who could do these parts, sat on my shoulder and said, ‘You’ll be all right.’ And the muscle memory came back. I thought it had gone, but it had not.” To read more, click here.

‘The Great Society’ sets new theater standard

“The Great Society” is a theatrical triumph! Written by Robert Schenkkan, and playing at the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center, it has a captivating, historical story that shows us all the conflicts that went on with President Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) during his administration and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Black people trying to get voting rights, and Senator Bobby Kennedy. You learn that LBJ was a simple Texas boy who struggled growing up in poverty and genuinely cared about the poor. He was a man with a great deal of humanity, but he was also surrounded by people such as J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI, who were not his friends. To read more, click here.

In The Great Society, We Get a Marvelous, If Painful, Look at LBJ and the War that Won’t Go Away

Hey, hey, LBJ

How many kids did you kill today!


That was one of many protest chants used against President Lyndon B. Johnson and his war in Vietnam, a tragic conflict that resulted in the deaths of some 58,000 American soldiers, plus some 200,000 South Vietnamese troops dead, and was the first war that America lost. It created a nationwide wrath against LBJ and his government and television news programs were filled for years with coverage of huge and loud protest marches against the war, especially after the 1968 Tet Offensive. The scalding story of the war, and Johnson’s heralded Great Society, is being told in a brilliant new play by Robert Schenkkan, The Great Society, that opened last night at the Vivian Beaumont Theater, at New York’s Lincoln Center. To read more, click here.