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