A Lost and Troubled Soul

L to R: Noah Berry, Andy Harvey, Daniel Thompson, Karen Pappas, Kimberly Braun, Michael Perrie, Jr., Millicent Hunnicutt, Evan Raines, Horace Smith, and Matt Smolko star in “Hank Williams: Lost Highway”

He was a musical genius troubled by demons.  He was the first megastar of country music.  And he left this world far too soon.  He was Hank Williams and you can watch his story in Hank Williams:  Lost Highway currently playing at Maples Repertory Theatre.

On very rare occasions I actually attend a show purely as a patron.  This was meant to be one of those times, but after seeing this show I felt obligated to put fingers to keyboard to share the gloriousness of this production.

Simply put, this is the finest show I’ve seen mounted at Maples Repertory since I first discovered this theatre.  It’s brilliantly directed.  It’s stellarly acted and sung.  Randal Myler and Mark Harelik conjured a pretty intriguing way of sharing Williams’ story.  It’s told in the vignette style, showing events from the life of Williams and using a nice touch of a pair of characters silently listening to Williams’ music on the radio.  They are people involved in Hank’s life, but they also serve as his id and the fans of Williams, respectively.  Williams’ numbers are skillfully placed as there’s no set up for each particular song, yet each song feels as if it was deliberately placed in its slot for a specific reason.

Todd Davison provided a spectacular piece of direction for this production.  This is a tricky show to direct as it does not tell a complete and connected story.  As such, each vignette is a mini-play in and of itself with its own build, climax, and resolution.  But there still has to be a unifying x factor to tie the vignettes together and Davison has that factor firmly in the palm of his hand as the transitions felt seamless.  He staged the show very effectively though some sightlines might be obscured from your view if you’re sitting at the farthest edges of the theatre.  His coaching of his actors is beyond reproach.  As my friend who joined me said, “There isn’t a flat tire in the lot.”  The acting is pitch perfect and the singing is angelic.

The supporting characters carry a heavy load in this show as they not only help to tell Williams’ story, but also have to play their own instruments.  Justin P. Cowan’s musical supervision is sure and certain with the cast nailing the interpretations of Williams’ songs to the floor.  Evan Raines provides some fine fiddling while Daniel Thompson sizzles on harmonica and, I think, a mandolin.  Amazing acting performances are supplied by Karen Pappas as Williams’ somewhat dominating mother, Mama Lilly.  Kimberly Braun skillfully sings badly as Williams’ wife, Audrey, whose ambitions far exceed her talent.  Andy Harvey brings a quiet leadership as Williams’ manager, Fred Rose.  Matt Smolko and Noah Berry shine as Jimmy and Hoss, friends and bandmates of Williams.  Berry especially impresses as the loyal friend who sticks by Williams until his demons become too heavy for him to support.  Millicent Hunnicutt does sterling work as a waitress who gets a one-night fling with Williams and also being a spiritual representation of his fans.  Horace Smith dominates as Tee-Tot, a street singer who inspires Williams’ career and serves as his emotional anchor and id as he appears to sing during Williams’ times of troubles to remind him of why he sings.  Smith has a beautiful, deep baritone that is Heaven sent and transports you to the heights and depths of emotion.

This show ultimately lives and dies by the performer playing Hank Williams and this show not only lives, but thrives, thanks to the talents of Michael Perrie, Jr.  If Perrie doesn’t get a Broadway World nomination for Best Actor in a Musical, it’s going to be a crime because he pulls off something truly amazing with the role.

Perrie simply IS Hank Williams.  Perrie perfectly duplicates his speaking and singing voice right down to the yodeling vibrato falsetto Williams often used in his songs.  Perrie is so much fun to watch due to his animation and attention to detail, finding little bits of business that enhance action and doesn’t pull attention away from the primary moment.  His body language was incredible as he well communicates Williams’ back issues from a botched spina bifida surgery with his grunts, grimaces, and twists.  Perrie’s drunken staggering and slurred speech in Williams’ darker moments is natural and realistic.  His song interpretation and emoting of said songs is so powerful that when he started crying during “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”, I wanted to cry along with him.

Charles Johnson has designed a simple set of a barn, farmhouse front, and steps to be all of the scenes of the show.  Dominic DeSalvio’s lights really enhance the show, especially with his use of intimate spotlights to highlight the more emotional moments of the production.  Eliot Curtis’ props helped to flesh out the world of this show while Pete Nasir’s sound work was pluperfect.  Jack A. Smith’s costumes take you back to the late 40s/early 50s with the simple dresses of the women, the suspenders and dress clothes for the men, and, of course, Williams’ trademark white suit and Stetson hat.

A show like this serves to remind me of why I got into theatre and it deserves to be seen and appreciated.  You don’t even have to be a fan of country music or even know anything about Hank Williams to enjoy the show because I’m certainly not and I truly didn’t.  If you love great acting and music, you will love this show.  You’ve still got 2 chances to see this remarkable production, so give it a try.  You won’t regret it.

Hank Williams:  Lost Highway runs at Maples Repertory Theatre through August 7.  Final performances are tonight at 7:30 pm and tomorrow at 2pm. Tickets cost $33 for the Main Floor and $26 for the balcony and can be obtained at the Box Office or by visiting www.maplesrep.com or calling 660-385-2924. Maples Repertory Theatre is located at 102 N Rubey St in Macon, MO.

Photo by Kelly Lewis

Maples Repertory Theatre Announces 2022 Season

Macon, MO–Maples Repertory Theatre has announced its 2022 season.

The Great American Trailer Park Musical

June 15 – July 10

There’s a new tenant at Armadillo Acres—and she’s wreaking havoc all over Florida’s most exclusive trailer park. Pippi, the exotic dancer on the run, comes between agoraphobic Jeannie and her tollbooth collector husband, and storms begin to brew. A musical comedy that has a little bit of everything: spray cheese, road kill, hysterical pregnancy, a broken electric chair, kleptomania, strippers, and disco!


The Nerd

June 24 – July 31

When Willum has an unexpected party guest, who turns into an unwanted houseguest, he executes an elaborate plan to rid himself of the wacky nuisance. Aided by a rag-tag team that includes friends, a would-be lover and an oblivious boss, creative acts of desperation quickly dissolve into utter mayhem. The twists and turns of this madcap comedy lead to an ending that leaves you feeling happily hoodwinked!


Hank Williams: Lost Highway

July 15 – August 7

Travel the road with country music’s first music star! This musical follows Hank Williams’ journey from backwoods Alabama, to his triumphs on the Grand Ole Opry, and to his self-destruction at twenty-nine. Audiences will be treated to an unforgettable tribute of more than 20 hits, including “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”, “Move It on Over”, “Jambalaya”, and “Hey, Good Lookin’”.


The Bikinis: A New Musical Beach Party

October 5 – October 16

Back together again! This favorite girl group from the Jersey Shore reunites to raise money for the good folk s at Sandy Shores Mobile Home Beach Resort. Reliving their heyday from the summer of ’64, these four inseparable friends offer a nonstop celebration of song from their early days through the next two decades. Featuring the hits “Yellow Polka Dot Bikini,” “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’,” “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “I Will Survive,”and “It’s Raining Men,” The Bikinis is a musical beach party!


Something’s Afoot

October 27 – November 7

Ten people are stranded in an isolated English country house during a raging thunderstorm. Suddenly, one by one they’re picked off by cleverly fiendish devices. As the bodies pile up in the library, the survivors frantically race to uncover the identity and motivation of the cunning culprit. Something’s Afoot is a zany, entertaining musical comedy that takes a satirical poke at Agatha Christie mysteries and musical styles of the English music hall of the ’30s.


A Tuna Christmas

November 30 – December 11

It’s Christmas in the third-smallest town in Texas. Radio news personalities Thurston Wheelis (played by MRT favorite Michael McIntire) and Arles Struvie (played by MRT favorite Sean Riley) report on various Yuletide activities, including the hot competition in the annual lawn-display contest. With the “Christmas Phantom” on the loose and the local Christmas production in peril, there is lots of mayhem to report. In this hilarious sequel to Greater Tuna, two actors play all of the crazy citizens of Tuna, Texas.

A Honkytonk Friendship

It’s a story of friendship between a down to earth country star and her biggest fan.  This is Always. . .Patsy Cline and it is currently playing at the Jewish Community Center under the auspices of Performing Artists Repertory Theatre.

Ted Swindley has written a pretty effective script.  While the show does pay tribute to Cline’s music (skillfully performed by Vince Learned and his band), it is more about the true story of the friendship between Louise Seger and Patsy Cline.  Swindley deftly cuts the duties of this show between a top flight storyteller and a world class singer as the character of Seger shares the story of how she became a fan of Cline’s music and then befriended her when she performed at a honkytonk in the early 60s.  The character of Cline doesn’t do much acting, but needs a mountainesque presence to go with a superior set of vocal chops.  Fortunately, this show has both elements in spades.

Gordon Cantiello’s direction is quite exceptional.  Not only do his two actresses perfectly embody their characters, but the relationship between them feels organic and genuine.  Cantiello also found a surprising number of beats in the script and keeps it engrossing as the story of Seger and Cline is, at turns, sweet, humorous, loving, and sad.

Connie Lee turns in a winning (dare I say award winning?) performance as Louise Seger.  Seger is definitely a character.  She’s iron willed, free spirited, and brassy as all get out.  But she’s also loyal, caring, and an awful lot of fun to be around.   Lee is a delight to watch with her incredible animation.  I just got a kick watching her react to Cline’s performances as she swayed to the music, outright danced to it, and made VERY sure that Cline’s drummer didn’t rush the backbeat.  More impressive is how she does it in a way that you notice it, but it doesn’t pull attention away from Cline.  Lee also does a bit of nifty improvisation to get the audience involved in the show.

Kellyn Danae Wooten was so spot on as Patsy Cline that if my eyes were closed I would have thought she was Cline.  Wooten perfectly emulates Cline’s throaty alto as she performs her classic hits including “Crazy”, “Sweet Dreams”, and “Walking After Midnight” just to name a few and also threw in a few encores for the audience at the end.  Though the character of Cline has very little spoken dialogue, Wooten had the warm, welcoming presence of the down to earth singer who I’m certain was “greatly relieved” to be treated like a regular person by Seger.

It’s a fun and amusing show and you don’t even have to be a fan or know much about Patsy Cline to enjoy the show.  If you enjoy a good bit of storytelling and enjoy good music, you will have a fun time watching this production.

Always. . .Patsy Cline runs through October 31.  Showtimes are 1pm and 4pm on October 23 and 3pm on October 31.  Tickets cost $37 and can be purchased by calling 402-706-0778.  The Jewish Community Center is located at 333 S 132nd St in Omaha, NE.

Maples Repertory Theatre Announces 2020 Season: Clearer Vision

Maples Repertory Theatre announces its 2020 Season:  Clearer Vision.

The summer season (June-Aug) will feature:

You Can’t Take it With You

June 17-July 12, 2020

A classic comedy by Kaufman and Hart about a man from a family of rich snobs who becomes engaged to a woman from a good-natured, but decidedly eccentric, family. A heartwarming and hilarious reminder of beauty all around us.

Greater Tuna

June 26-July 26, 2020

Two men play the entire cast of over twenty eccentric characters of both genders and various ages who live in the second smallest town in Texas. It’s an affectionate comment on small-town life and attitudes. Two of Maples Rep’s favorite comedic actors, Michael McIntire and Sean Riley, are slated to star.

Phantom of the Country Opera

July 17-August 9, 2020

This hilarious country and western send-up of The Phantom of the Opera takes place backstage at the Country Palace in Nashville, Tennessee where former operate ingénue Christina Joseph (now Chrissy Jo) gets a job singing back up to the reigning “Queen of Country Music”. Great music, funny characters and a falling chandelier.

The fall season (Sept-Dec) features:

Menopause:  The Musical

Sept 16-Oct 4, 2020

Four women at a lingerie sale have nothing in common but a black lace bra AND memory loss, hot flashes, and night sweats. This hilarious musical parody set to classic tunes from the 60’s and 70’s will have you cheering and dancing in the aisles. Find out why millions of women AND MEN have been laughing at this show for 18 years.

Ripcord

Oct 14-Oct 25, 2020

Abby has always had a quiet room to herself at the Bristol Place Senior Living Facility. If a new roommate was assigned to the second bed, Abby – cantankerous and private – quickly got them out. That is until enthusiastic, optimistic Marilyn arrives. Soon Abby realizes that unseating Marilyn is going to take something special. The high-stakes bet that the two women make leads quickly to an all-out war of comic proportions. Ripcord is an often slapstick, always surprising comedy about enemies who may or may not become friends.

I Love a Piano

Nov 27-Dec 13, 2020

This celebration of music and lyrics of Irving Berlin follows the journey of a piano as it moves in and out of American lives from the turn of the century to the present. Along the way, the story comes to vibrant life as the cast sings and dances over sixty of Irving Berlin’s most beloved songs including “Blue Skies”, “There’s No Business Like Show Business”, “Puttin’ on the Ritz”, “Always”, “White Christmas”, and, of course, “I Love a Piano”.

Tickets are available now.  For more information, visit http://www.maplesrep.com, e-mail info@maplesrep.com, or call 660-385-2914.  Maples Repertory Theatre is located at 102 N Rubey St in Macon, MO.

 

The Night the Music Lived

Buddy Holly Story

Michael Perrie, Jr. as Buddy Holly

His career spanned a year and a half, but in that time he revolutionized rock and roll and left an indelible fingerprint that would inspire some of the greatest performers of all time.  His story is the focus of Buddy:  The Buddy Holly Story by Alan Janes and currently playing at Maples Repertory Theatre.

Janes’ script falls somewhere between a play and a jukebox musical.  Precious little of Holly’s life is covered in the show.  The play part focuses on certain key points in his life from his struggles as a teenager trying to become a rock star in the country music meccas of Texas and Nashville to his nabbing a recording contract with an open minded producer to his legendary Apollo performance to his whirlwind marriage to his break-up with the Crickets and, finally, to his final concert at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, IA.  Needless to say, the jukebox part focuses on Holly’s hits as well as numerous other hits of the day.

Tim Seib masterfully handles the dual direction required of the production.  He musters every ounce of story, nuance, and emotion from the story portion of the production.  In fact, I was incredibly impressed with his work for the romance between Holly and his wife, Maria Elena Santiago, which is the richest part of the story from an acting perspective.  Seib nabs an easy A+ directing the action of the musical part of the show which is good, old fashioned, pulse pounding rock and roll.

Some wonderful featured performances were supplied by Alan Gillespie as Norman Petty, the producer willing to allow Holly the chance to record music his way, but also lives up to his last name by attempting to screw Holly over by keeping the Crickets and taking the band name when Holly decides to change labels; Garrick Vaughan and Nissi Shalome as a pair of Apollo performers who give a rousing rendition of “Shout” and mercilessly heckle Holly and his band before their performance; Mike Brennan is an indefatigable cauldron of energy as J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson and excels with his solo in “Chantilly Lace”.

I’d also like to give some special notice to Alix Rhode who gives a subtle and moving performance as Maria Elena Santiago.  She is strong, bold, and so loving and supportive of Buddy and your heart breaks as you know her fears for Holly’s safety are all too true.

This show lives or dies by the performer playing Buddy Holly and Michael Perrie, Jr. admirably carries the load of this show on his shoulders.

Perrie IS Buddy Holly and practically reincarnates him in front of the eyes of the audience.  Not only does Perrie bear a remarkable physical similarity to the late singer, but he also effortlessly emulates his look, assumes his accent and speech cadences, and even gets that unique hiccup in his voice when he sings.

Perrie brings some serious acting chops to the role.  He manages to show Holly’s politeness and decency, but also his toughness as Holly wouldn’t back down from anyone when it came to his music.  He also well plays Holly’s free-spirited nature.  This was a man who always marched to his own beat no matter what anyone thought about his choices.  He also expertly handles the heartache of Buddy’s life, shedding real tears when the Crickets abandon him and, more or less, yank the band name from him.

Musically, Perrie is also outstanding.  He’s a guitar player par excellence and easily handled rock numbers such as “Not Fade Away”, “Oh, Boy!”, and “That’ll Be the Day”, but he was just as nimble and moving on the softer numbers such as “True Love Ways”, “Words of Love”, and “Heartbeat”.

Cullen Law’s musical direction was exceptional as he and his performers made these classic tunes their own.  Jack Smith’s costumes were superb, from the elegant suits for the men to the pretty gowns for the ladies. Ali Strelchun has created a nice three sided set with a massive band area at center stage, a small radio station at house left, and Petty’s tiny recording studio at house right.  Jess Fialko’s lights are spot on with colors and intensity matching the energy and emotions of the songs and an incredibly poignant blackout for The Day the Music Died.

I want to take a moment and applaud all of the actors for showing great poise under pressure as they battled microphone issues throughout the night, but steamrolled right over them.

Some music experts have argued that, had Holly’s life not been cut short, Buddymania may have ruled the world due to the breakthroughs he was making with music.  Though his life was tragically short, he left behind an amazing legacy that is still inspiring musicians today.  And if you want a taste of musical history and a fun filled time, go see this show.

Music Lived

The Day the Music Died (Left to right: Mike Brennan as the Big Bopper, Michael Perrie, Jr. as Buddy Holly, & Chase Tucker as Ritchie Valens)

Buddy:  The Buddy Holly Story plays at Maples Repertory Theatre through August 11.  Performances are at 2pm on July 28, 31 and August 2-4, 6, 10, 11 and 7:30pm on July 31, August 2, 4, 7, 9-10.  Tickets start at $24 and can be obtained at www.maplesrep.com or contacting the Box Office at 660-385-2924.  Maples Repertory Theatre is located at 102 N Rubey St in Macon, MO.

Pictures supplied through courtesy of Maples Repertory Theatre

This review is dedicated to the memory of Kay McGuigan.  We miss you, friend!