The American Blues Theater begins its “Legends and Legacies” season with Hank Williams: Lost Highway, a musical bio of the iconic, but short lived singer song writer, who gave America a new sound that embraced their lives. He was self taught, his sound combined bayou blues, with cowboy yodeling, and hillbilly bluegrass, but the stories his music told reflected his physical and emotional pain, which ultimately led him to alcoholism and an early grave. Many of his greatest songs, “Jambalaya”, “Your Cheatin Heart”, “I’m so Lonesome I Could Cry”, and “Hey Good Lookin” have endured the decades and been covered by some of the most successful recording artists of our times.
Written by Randal Myler & Mark Harelik, this production is directed by Damon Kiely, who uses a careful hand to ensure that each scene enables the actors to bring the audience into the moment, and that they do. The story follows Hank’s career; as a youngster cutting his teeth with blues singer Tee-Tot, portrayed with conviction by John Crowley, to his success singing at the Grand Ole Opry, and finally to his sad demise. The story is well woven and never lets you down as we begin to see Hank’s genius almost immediately. Fine supporting performances from Suzane Petri as Hank’s mama Lily, Dana Black as the waitress, Laura Coover as Hank’s ambitious, but seemingly talentless wife Audrey, and James Leaming as his manager, Fred Rose, all provide additional insight into the singer’s life. At the core of the show is the music of Hank Williams and this production showcases 20 songs from the Williams songbook. He was an amazing songwriter who spun songs in his head and wrote them down on napkins. He could instantly create lyrics that were meaningful and personal, which is why his music was so loved. Musical Director Malcolm Ruhl has deftly arranged these great songs with a very talented group of performers. American Blues Theater Ensemble Member Matt Brunlow plays Hank Williams with energy and emotion. His thin appearance mirrors the stringbean Williams and his characterization is more than believable. His vocals really capture the essence of the Williams style and you especially feel in the moment with “Mind your own Business” and “I am so Lonesome I could Cry”. Williams’ band, the Drifting Cowboys, is portrayed by Michael Mahler who plays Jimmy, Austin Cook who is Hoss, John Foley who is Shag, and Greg Hirte who plays Leon. These are very talented musician/actors who give excellent performances and make wonderful music playing guitars, mandolins, upright basses, violins, steel guitars, and, you can’t forget the spoons! This group works very well together and you know they are the real deal.
The Greenhouse Theater is an intimate venue with excellent acoustics and a perfect setting for this show. The stage is well managed and the actors and their instruments blend naturally as the story ebbs and flows. The American Blues Theater production celebrates the music of a true American genius and gives its audience, young and old, a reason to tap their toes.
Hank Williams: Lost Highway, will run through October 6, at the Greenhouse Theater Center’s Downstage Mainstage Theater, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets are$29 Thursdays and Fridays and $39 Saturdays and Sundays. The performance schedule is Thursday – Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. There are post-show Town Hall discussions following Sunday performances. Tickets are on sale now at 773-404-7336 or americanbluestheater.com. There is metered street parking along Lincoln Avenue.
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