Hank Williams musical full of heart

By Tony Kiss, The Asheville Citizen-Times

Flat Rock Playhouse has a heartfelt country-western winner with the jukebox musical "Hank Williams: Lost Highway," a look at the country music legend's life and music.

Directed by Flat Rock's artistic director Vincent Marini, the show spans the singer's career from his early forgotten days in Alabama through his biggest hits and promising stardom on radio's Grand Ole Opry. It also covers his darkest hours, battling the bottle and pills and his rocky relationship with his wife.

As jukebox musicals almost always do, it follows a predicable path, but it ends with a rousing feel-good number, covering many of his major hits.

For an artist who died at 29, Williams left behind a treasure trove of classic tunes. Even a casual country fan will know these songs, including "I'm So Lonely I Could Die," "Jambalaya" and "Move It On Over."

This ace cast covers them all with skill, powered by actor-singer Andy Christopher as Williams. He's backed by solid on-stage musicians, most of whom also do a bit of acting: Mike Rosengarten, Sam Sherwood, Douglas Waterbury Tieman and Bill Altman.

Playwrights Randal Myler and Mark Harelik paint a vivid portrait of Williams, who was nurtured in his music by bossy Mama Lilly (Gwendolyn F. Jones), music executive Fred Rose (Preston Dyar) and Hank's squeaky-voice wife Audrey (a fun performance by Lilly Tobin).

It is Audrey who takes charge, pushing aside Mama Lilly, urging Williams to put down the bottle, and hoping herself for a bit of the limelight.

On the sidelines are a nameless greasy spoon waitress (Erin Mosher) and the street musician Tee-Tot (a standout turn by Jasper McGruder on a mean harmonica). The Tee-Tot character is like a friendly specter, lingering and watching as Williams struggles through his career.

The real-life Williams battled many demons, not the least being alcoholism. Christopher does a nice job crafting this complex character. We all want Williams to do the right thing, but history records how it turned out in the end.

Editor's note: The Flat Rock Playhouse is located in North Carolina. It is around a two and a half hour drive from Knoxville. For more information click here.


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