It is not often that a production is so well received that it is the audience that forces the theater company to “bring it back”. Thus is the case with the remount of American Blues Theater’s “Hank Williams: Lost Highway”, now on stage at The Greenhouse Theater Center. This production was a smash hit and I, for one, am very glad that they brought it back. Let me explain. Awhile back, another company did a splendid production of this musical biography written by Randal Myler and Mark Harelik that tells the story of music legend Hank Williams, who changed the sounds we listened to before his tragic (and very early) death at 29 years of age. I enjoyed that one very much and so when American Blues Theater put their version on, at a very busy theater time and just months after my heart attack, I took a “pass”. The fact that they brought it back, gave me that second chance in life (as did the heart surgery I had last year) and knowing what I know today, you never look a second chance in the mouth- you take it and savor it. That is what I will tell you that I did with this sterling production!
This is a tribute to the late Hank Williams directed by Damon Kiely and once again starring Matthew Brumlow in a role that he was born to play, Hank Williams. The story told with his music is simply his rise from a poor boy in Louisiana to a man who changed the complexion of the music he created. A man who heard music in the streets and saw no color to what he heard. Black or white made no “never mind”! He could make the words he wrote on scraps of paper become songs that all the people could enjoy as their spirits were lifted, or their broken hearts were allowed to start the healing process. Brumlow, who I recall doing Curly in an early “Oklahoma” ,truly shines in his role-playing, as well as story telling ,that his character must do in this biography. His life and his music have been major influences not only on the Country Western world, but have crossed into the jazz and Folk music genres as well. As I said earlier, while there is no question that Williams was white in color, it is very true that in his heart and soul, he could have been a Black man.
What makes this show very special is the cast that has been assembled to tell this story, almost concert style, as we see Hank and his “band” work their way up to their success at The Grand Ole Opry and all the stops along the way. Actors who are musicians make up the band: Austin Cook, Michael Mahler, Chicago’s favorite “fiddler” Greg Hirte (who shows a bit more of his acting skill in this one) along with the always reliable Suzanne Petri as Mama (one of her best performances, ever!), and Dana Black as the adorable waitress in a side-splitting scene, and the marvelous Cora Vander Bruck , as Audry, Hank’s non-singing wife. Also featured are John Foley, James Joseph, James Leaming, and the incredible Byron Glenn Willis as Tee-Tot, the inspiration for the soul that Hank Williams possessed!
The set by Jackie and Rick Penrod, the lighting by Nick Belley, and sound by Rick Sims are all sheer perfection. We never miss a beat. The other ingredients that make this show so extra special are the props (Arianna Soloway) and costumes by Sarah E. Ross. Malcolm Ruhl’s musical direction is the icing on the cake, making this a show that I suggest you “must see!”. In fact, even if you saw it before, you might want to take a friend and go see it again. It is a sheer delight to watch an audience made up of oldsters ( who knew Hank Williams music) and youngsters, have a delightful experience in the theater together. Over two hours of great story telling using the music of Williams: “I’m So Lonesome, I Could Cry”, “Move It On Over”, “”hey Good Lookin” and “Jambalaya. In total over 20 songs ,and the cast appears to be having as much fun as we are! What else could an audience ask for in their theatrical experience: a strong story, well told with some great music, and to top it off, a cast that is DYNAMITE!
Wednesdays thru Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.
Sundays at 2:30 p.m.
Tickets are $29-$39 which is a value for a theatrical experience such as this. They can be purchased by calling 773-404-7336 or visiting www.AmericanBluesTheater.com
The Greenhouse Theater Center is located at 2257 N. Lincoln Avenue and while there is some metered parking and limited street parking without a residential sticker, you can still grab a space at the old Children’s Hospital garage just one block north of the theater. Lots of dining spots to choose from.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “Hank Williams: Lost Highway”
There will be free post show events following every Sunday afternoon performance.