Thursday, October 17, 2013
Theater review: Hank Williams: Lost Highway remembers the father of country music
Hank was played by Joey Folsom, whose mannerisms captured both the young and irresponsible singer as well as the older man who got caught up in problems he couldn’t figure out.
ADDISON I had an enjoyable opportunity to review WaterTower Theatre’s presentation of Hank Williams: Lost Highway. The musical biography tells the story of the remarkably talented musician Hank Williams, considered to be the father of modern country music. Williams was introduced into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1960, and many awards have been bestowed on him recently, including his 1949 MGM #1 hit “Lovesick Blues.” This same song was inducted into the Recording Academy Grammy Hall of Fame. In 1999, Williams was also inducted into the Native American Music Hall of Fame.
Upon entering the theatre, the audience finds themselves smack dab in the middle of the Grand Ole Opry. This allowed for the concert-based production to flow smoothly, creating a definite environment for the actors. The set design by Clare DeVries exuded an old country feel, with quilts hanging on the back walls and company logos and advertisements running along the front of the stage.
Michael Robinson was the costume designer for the show, also bringing back that 1940s country feel with his use of boots, buckles and hats. Though these items are still a large part of the country spirit today, the way Robinson put them together allowed for realism of the time period the musical was set in.
Leann Burns made clear choices when designing the lighting. I enjoyed how the back drop for the Grand Ole Opry would light up, creating a believable music hall feel. The actors were clearly illuminated, and though a few light cues were a bit late, the show ran smoothly and clearly. Spotlights helped to transition between different characters and to distinguish changes of location, highlighting the diner at one point and then the singer Tee-Tot.
Sound design by Scott Guenther heightened the quality of the music being performed live. Though the actors were the ones creating all of the music for the show, Guenther fully and successfully augmented their instruments and voices to make it easier and more enjoyable for the audience to hear. Though there were some issues with the microphones being too quiet on occasion, I was able to follow the storyline. The gunshots were also very realistic, as they were firing blanks, and the sound effects for their car made it very realistic.
Gillian Salerno-Rebic designed the properties, making appropriate choices, from the style of the microphone used throughout the play to the gun that was used during the show. The properties added a definite dimension to the show, such as beer and liquor bottles placed about. Alcoholism and drug abuse were often mentioned, and these props helped reinforce Williams as an individual with serious problems.
Joey Folsom played the part of Williams, the southern Alabama hillbilly singer who accomplished a lot in his 29 years of life. Folsom had a strong, dynamic performance as Williams, showing incredible singing skills and good guitar skills. I especially appreciated his singing during the songs “I’m So Lonely I Could Cry” and “Mind Your Own Business.” Folsom’s acting was strong and his body movement and mannerisms made it very clear if he was portraying the young and irresponsible Williams or the older man who got caught up in problems that he couldn’t figure out.
Major Attaway was outstanding in his portrayal of Tee-Tot, the southern Alabama street singer who teaches Williams to sing with soul. Attaway had an exceptional performance, with strong vocal skills during “This Is the Way I Do,” “Long Gone Lonesome Blues” and “Lost Highway.” Attaway’s voice was powerful and commanding and I kept wishing to hear him sing more throughout the show.
Christia Mantzke portrayed The Waitress, an employee at an all-night diner in the south. I enjoyed watching her enthusiasm whenever Williams' music came on the radio and how she interacted with the songs. The choices Mantzke made in her acting showed a woman who really wanted freedom from the drudgery of her life and who, like many other women of that era, escaped through Williams' music.
Williams' strong, overbearing mother Mama Lilly was portrayed by Pam Dougherty. Dougherty created a very real character with her choices, showing a strong woman who had done her best to raise her son properly. The way she also interacted with the other characters showed a realistic mother who didn’t want those around him to be a bad influence on her son.
Dave Rankin portrayed the part of Hoss, one of the members of Williams' band The Drifting Cowboys, and showed dynamic performance skills both vocally and on the guitar. Sonny Franks portrayed Jimmy (Burrhead), the Oklahoma native and second member of Williams' band. Together these two served as both the foundation of the band and as Williams' partners in crime. They exuded a youthful desire for freedom and fame along with Williams. As the show progressed they morphed into friends who were hurt by Williams' choices and worried about his well-being. Both Rankin and Franks were incredible at portraying their emotions throughout the show. Added to the band later was Leon (Loudmouth), the fiddle player who was masterfully portrayed by Joseph Holt. Holt demonstrated incredible fiddle skills and a very talented member of the band, creating a believable fun character.
Stan Graner played Fred Rose (Pap), the founder and executive producer of a Nashville publishing company who discovers Williams and his music and hires him on to be a regular performer on the Grand Ole Opry. I appreciated the style in which Graner narrated what was happening to Williams during his brief life, as it lent an almost storybook quality to the show as well as keeping the musical moving smoothly.
Audrey Williams, the blond Alabama beauty that was Williams' first wife, was portrayed by Mikaela Krantz. Krantz was a joy to watch onstage, especially in how she interacted with Williams and how their interaction changed over time. Her vocals during “I’m Gonna Sing, Sing, Sing” was appropriately dreadful, adding to the character’s overall image and showing Krantz’ great talent. Her skills were even more apparent during ensemble numbers when Krantz could more skillfully sing with the rest of the cast. I also enjoyed how at times she was positioned behind a screen on the set, showing merely through her body language her disapproval at how Williams was living his life.
The story of this great country musician is masterfully portrayed by WaterTower Theatre. The night that I reviewed was their first preview performance, which means this show can only keep on getting better and better from an already incredible start. I highly recommend Hank Williams: Lost Highway as an evening full of soulful music and astounding performances.
Pegasus News Content partner - John Garcia's The Column
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