I saw HANK WILLIAMS on Saturday. American Blues is remounting their smash Honky Tonk Blues hit from last summer. Most of the original cast is back for a second hearty helping of Louisana’s legendary native son. If you missed it last summer, don’t miss it this time around. If you saw it last year, you know why you should Move it on Over to Greenhouse Theatre for the Jambalaya special again.
American Blues Theater presents HANK WILLIAMS: LOST HIGHWAY.
I wasn’t a particular fan of Hank Williams until I saw this show. I thought he was a country singer. I found out he was a genius. He informally taught himself to play guitar, write songs and sing a cross-genre of blues meets country on their way to church. Hank Williams was born a hillbilly, died a celebrity and lives on as a legend. His extensive music portfolio belied his short life. At 29, he died of heart failure exacerbated by drugs and alcohol.
His death is how Playwrights Randal Myler and Mark Harelik begin Hank’s story. The eulogy prologue is made soulful with crooning by John Crowley (Tee Tot) spliced with colorful funeral narration by Dana Black (waitress). And then Myler and Harelik swing the story back to the beginnings. Grand dame Suzanne Petri (mama) chronicles Hank’s early years. Petri hilariously plays the proud and wise-cracking matriarch. Petri introduces her young son, Matt Brumlow (Hank) and then he is the focal point.
Under the direction of Damon Kiely and music direction of Malcolm Ruhl, Brumlow is amazing! Physically, during the course of the show, he delivers a spry to debilitating performance. Emotionally, Brumlow goes from earnest to tortured over the decade time period. And musically, Matt Brumlow is Hank Williams. He gives twangy vocal stylings and endless wrenching emotion to the lyrics. Brumlow seduces me into the Hank Williams fan club.
This biographical tribute features multiple Hank Williams songs, including; “Honky Tonk Blues,” “I’m so Lonesome I could Cry,” and “Jambalaya.” The ensemble does fill the theatre with haunting echoes of poignant songs. But mostly, they crank up the foot-tapping fun. In particular, two guys in the band, Michael Mahler and Austin Cook, break into a riotous shtick during a playful number. Other humorous bits are delivered by the vocally-challenged Cora Vander Broek (Audrey) and the snarky Dana Black (waitress). Kiely directs this talented ensemble to pull us into the past and see Hank Williams from multiple insiders’ perspectives. It’s powerfully intimate.
HANK WILLIAMS: LOST HIGHWAY is a poetic testimony to what launches and destroys a brilliant career. Hank’s story will have you musing and humming all the way home.
Running Time: Two hours and thirty minutes includes an intermission
At Greenhouse Theatre, 2257 N. Lincoln
Written by Randal Myler and Mark Harelik
Featuring the music of Hank Williams
Music direction by Malcolm Ruhl
Directed by Damon Kiely
Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 7:30pm
Sundays at 2:30pm
Thru August 31st
Buy Tickets at www.americanbluestheater.com
Production photo by Johnny Knight
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