The Shawnee Theatre opened their summer season with the musical "Hank Williams: Lonesome Highway" directed by Ben Brotzman. The show features more than twenty of Williams classics with songs like "Hey, Good Lookin’," "Jambalya," "Your Cheatin’ Heart," and of course "Lost Highway" as it looks back on the singer and composer’s tragically short life.
The production smoothly moves between narration and action. Laura Snyder was commanding as Hank’s imposing but indulgent mother, Mama Lily and then presided from her rocking chair over on the left. Gary Brice played Tee Tot, a black street singer from whom Hank first learned the blues that so inflected his music. He was always at the back of the stage for mournfully bluesy moments that underlay some of the scenes. Sara Pavlak simply lit up the stage’s right corner as a star struck lonely waitress in a roadside diner. Ben Gougeon who came and went, was sympathetic as the Nashville producer and publisher Fred Rose who had both personal and financial concerns about Hank. Shelley Cooper was the love of Hank’s life, the feisty Miss Audrey. Cooper was hilarious as Audrey trying and failing miserably as a singer and later touching as the widow protecting the legacy. They and others were part of the action, but also spoke their thoughtful memories in the production at Shawnee.
Ian Way and Nick Shell played rowdy high school buddies who went on to play in Hank’s "Drifting Cowboys.’ Fiddler Tim Parker contributed the country base of the music. In the middle of the increasingly tense second act of "’ :Lost Highway" the trio of Way, Shell and Parker broke the tension with a nice little traditional country comedy set around the song "Way Down Town." Roy Chapman appeared with the steel guitar to "lick for lick" give the music an authentic fifties feel.
"Hank Williams: Lost Highway" traces Hanks’ life from his boyhood in the hills of rural Alabama through his first Grand Ole Opry performance in 1949, the struggles in the last years of his life and the legacy he left behind. The show is built around the songs and around the solid performances by Kevin Guthridge. Guthridge’s voice is a baritone. It’s richer in the lower register than Hank’s reedy tenor, though he’s not as smooth as Hank in the yodels. He did a nice job of acting as the brash youngster, the mixed up success and then the tragically drunken and pill addicted singer.
Opening night at the Shawnee Theatre was very much a community affair with a big crowd, plenty of applause for the show, a standing ovation for the cast and a generous pitch-in buffet afterward.
"Hank Williams: Lost Highway" plays Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at eight and Sundays at two through June 24th at the Shawnee Theatre.
You can an interview with Artistic Director Matt Graber on our Arts Interviews page .