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Broadway’s Best Political Plays

May 16, 2024

by Ben Togut

From presidential campaigns to government scandals, there has been a wealth of political plays on Broadway in recent years. Featuring politicians both real and imagined, these plays provide audiences with intrigue and insight, exploring notable periods of history and how political dynamics affect relationships. 

The Best Man, which opened on Broadway in 1960. Written by Gore Vidal, The Best Man is about two candidates facing off in the presidential primaries, each with flaws that threaten their personal lives and political careers. When the play premiered, it was widely understood as an analogue to that year’s Democratic Convention and as well as a critique of the Democratic Party. The Best Man was adapted into a film in 1964 and has been revived twice—in 2001 and 2012—featuring Broadway veterans such as James Earl Jones, Christine Ebersole, and Angela Lansbury.

Life on the Stage: Frost/Nixon : Jacob Burns Film Center

Peter Morgan’s Frost/Nixon, which opened on Broadway in 2007. The play dramatizes a contentious set of interviews between President Richard Nixon and British broadcaster David Frost, examining Nixon’s presidency and his involvement in the Watergate scandal. Starring Frank Langella as Nixon and Michael Sheen as David Frost, the play was later adapted into a film by Ron Howard with Langella and Sheen repeating their original roles.

On Broadway: 'NOVEMBER'

David Mamet’s November, which opened on Broadway in 2008 starring Nathan Lane and Laurie Metcalf. Just as in politics, elections are at the crux of many political plays. Billed as a satire, November focuses on an unpopular president in the days leading up to his second election. The production was praised for its sharp humor as well as the strength of its performances, with Metcalf receiving a Tony nomination for her role as Carlice Bernstein, the president’s secretary.

Hillary and Clinton' Review: Play With Laurie Metcalf, John Lithgow
Photo by Julieta Cervantes

Hillary and Clinton, which premiered on Broadway in 2019. Written by Lucas Hnath, Hillary and Clinton takes place in an alternate universe, focusing on the struggles of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign and her relationship with Bill Clinton. Starring Laurie Metcalf as Hillary Clinton and John Lithgow as Bill Clinton, the play was applauded for its witty writing and unique exploration of Hillary and Bill Clinton’s marriage.

All The Way (Broadway, Neil Simon Theatre, 2014) | Playbill
Photo by Evgenia Eliseeva

All the Way, which premiered on Broadway in 2014 with Bryan Cranston as President Lyndon. B. Johnson. Written by Robert Schenkkan, the play focuses on Johnson assuming the presidency and his campaign to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Cranston received high praise for his performance as Johnson, which led to him winning his first Tony Award. In 2016, All the Way was adapted into a film, with Cranston reprising his role as LBJ.

Photo by Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade

The Great Society, which opened on Broadway in 2019 starring Brian Cox as LBJ, is Schenkkan’s continued exploration of Johnson’s presidency. The play examines the events following the president’s re-election in 1964, including the rise of the civil rights movement, the worsening of the Vietnam War, and the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. In addition to Cox, the original Broadway production featured Gordon Clapp as J. Edgar Hoover, Marc Kudisch as Richard J. Daley, and Bryce Pinkham as Robert F. Kennedy.

Current political representations on New York stages include Patriots, diving into Russian leadership; Suffs, which dramatizes the suffragist movement; and An Enemy of the People, which depicts the reaction of a small-town government and local press to a public health scandal. Soon to come is N/A, which will have its world premiere at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi E. Newhouse. Starring Holland Taylor and Ana Vilafañe, the play focuses on two prominent congresswomen, generations apart, and is based on real people and events.