Hank Williams: Lost Highway at Filament Theatre Ensemble | Theater review
A rote recounting of the country legend’s short life takes a backseat to the lovingly re-created music in this biographical revue.
There’s one hell of a honky-tonk tribute concert at the heart of Randal Myler and Mark Harelik’s 1987 biomusical about Grand Ole Opry icon Hank Williams, played by crying-steel charmer Peter Oyloe in Filament Theatre Ensemble’s celebratory if by-the-numbers production. The play’s ostensibly written for those who prefer their music served with a side of linear, “and then” factoids—a problematic convention as old and predictable as Williams’s boozy rise and fall narrative—but directors Julie Ritchey and Omen Sade liven up Myler and Harelik’s lukewarm country-music history lesson with downhome charm. Oyloe leads a stellar cast of giddy misfits, with Jesse Woelfel, Sam Quinn, Tim McNulty and Eric Labanauskas providing strong backup as Williams’s Drifting Cowboys.
Told largely via the perspective of Williams’s mother-slash-manager (Danon Dastugue), Lost Highway chronicles Hank’s arc from church boy rabble-rouser to influential songbook powerhouse to self-destructive narcissist and addict (Williams suffered from chronic back pain and a penchant for washing down morphine with liquor). Myler and Harelik’s mostly lighthearted script doesn’t pack enough genuine human-interest punch to convey its protagonist’s tragic fall; interest begins to wane after the singer’s fate becomes clear. Instead, Williams’s troubled relationship with wife and wildly insecure wanna-be duet partner Audrey Williams (Mary Spearen) and his tutelage under blues mentor Tee-Tot (a tone-setting turn by Gerald Richardson) take center stage. But stacked up against the band’s infectious tunes, even that’s just filler.