Directed by Damon kiely
Music Direction by Malcolm Ruhl
Produced by American Blues Theater
At the Greenhouse Theatre, Chicago
Bleak look at the life of hillbilly star Hank Williams a tuneful treat
Hank Williams: Lost Highway is a bio-musical about the first modern country super-star singer/songwriter. Hank Williams (1923-53) had 11 number one hits in the country/blues genre from 1948-53. His hits included “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” “Move It On Over, ” Jambalaya,” and “Hey, Good Lookin.” He was a self-taught singer/composer who started his career on radio at age 14 in 1937. Hie early influence was a street blues singer, Tee-Tot (John Crowley) who taught Williams to sing his pain. With a major back pain and alcoholism, Williams sure had enough pain to sing about. He combined “hillbilly” style with Southern blues to form “white man’s blues.'” His tunes are still jukebox hits and country standards.
Since American Blues Theater is an ensemble based theatre troupe, they have cast many of their ensemble members in this bio-musical. The acting here is fine with Suzanne Petri, as Mama Lilly and Dana Black , as the Waitress doing their finest Southern turns. James Leaming is Fred Rose, the group’s manager. The music is well played giving Williams’ song book an authentic sound. Director Damon Kiely made some strange choices here electing to play Hank’s early life for the down-home humor that nearly became parody.
He also had Matthew Brumlow play Hank Williams throughout as a brooding, never-smiling artist haunted by pain and booze. Where was the well-know charm that Williams could muster when needed? While Brumlow sang Williams terrific tunes with deep emotions, his vocal chops spread thin. The piece glances over the relationship between Hank and Audrey (Laura Coover). We never fully understand their violate relationship other than Audrey couldn’t sing.
But, this production’s main feature comes from the toe-tapping Williams songbook. With 20 Hank Williams songs, the show delivers enough entertainment to please. Hank Williams fans will love this show. Those who don’t know Hank’s work will be impressed at his simple yet profound tunes. American Blues Theater has a worthy tribute to the country legend; it is worth a look.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: September 6, 2013
For more info checkout the Hank Williams: Lost Highway page at theatreinchicago.com
At the Greenhouse Theatre, 2257 N. Lincoln, Chicago, IL, call 773-404-7336, www.americanbluestheater.com, tickets $29 – $39, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 2;30 pm, running time is 2 hours with intermission, through October 6, 2013