One of the best productions of the 2002 – 2003 theater
season is playing off-Broadway at Manhattan Ensemble Theater (M.E.T.) in a
run that has been extended through February 2. M.E.T. has established itself
as a new hot spot for quality theater in its short history, and this smart
New York City debut/U.S. revival of the musical HANK WILLIAMS: LOST
HIGHWAY is a clear reminder that the reputation is well deserved.
How much did I enjoy LOST HIGHWAY? Well I do not
know country music, or particularly like it much at all, and not only did I
recognize the ubiquitous Hank Williams hits, such as "Move it on Over," "I
Saw the Light," "Your Cheatin’ Heart," and "Hey, Good Lookin’," I loved the
whole of the two acts. This show is a reminder of what theaters were built
for! Jason Petty, in a fabulous performance as the troubled Hank Williams,
leads a great cast that should be particularly noted for some marvelous
musical abilities. Michael W. Howell, as Tee-Tot, an early musical influence
on Hank, lends his booming and evocative voice in a handful of memorable and
pivotal moments onstage. As the Drifting Cowboys, Stephen G. Anthony, Myk
Watford and Drew Perkins are a trio to be reckoned with. They, along with
Mr. Petty, had the audience clapping their hands, stomping their feet, and
even singing along at some points.
One of the best attributes of this biographical work is
that it never becomes maudlin, in spite of the very sad aspects of Hank
Williams’ life. Yes, he hit it big, but he was an alcoholic who was also
addicted to drugs, and he died in the back seat of his own car at the age of
twenty-nine. Those tawdry details could have led to the most melodramatic
and exploitive of dramas. Could have, but not in the respectful hands of
Randal Myler and Mark Harelik. For, HANK WILLIAMS: LOST HIGHWAY is a
portrait of the man as an artist, as a human being, and as a permanent
fixture in American musical culture. Neither heroic nor pathetic, this Hank
Williams is simply a very talented man who, by sheer circumstance was able
to have his voice heard for the very short time that he lived.
Simultaneously tragic and triumphant, we are left feeling the void, but
awash in the collective experience of having heard his songs. Such is the
power of inspired art.
Highly, heartily recommended, and a requirement for the
country music fan, HANK WILLIAMS: LOST HIGHWAY is impressive work.
- Kessa De Santis -