A Musical Retelling of The Tortured Life Of A Legend in “Hank Williams: Lost Highway”

Miami’s Actors Playhouse continues its commitment to mounting the productions it put off due to the pandemic with a production of Hank Williams: Lost Highway, a 1987 musical about the life of the titular country music legend. One of an array of biographical jukebox musicals probably chosen for the certainty the star’s name recognition will have, as far as attracting crowds. The show devotes much of its running time to recreations of the performances of Williams and his bandmates, who were together known as the Drifting Cowboys.

These musical numbers are the highlight and lynchpin of the proceedings. Standards like “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” “Honky Tonk Blues” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” are delivered with aplomb by a group of talented actors, most of whom hail from out of town and some of whom have prior experience in their particular roles. In which these roles require a fairly specific skill set as the actors must play their own instruments and as well as be excellent singers and actors. 

Andy Christopher, Elizabeth Dimon and the cast of “Hank Williams: Lost Highway” at Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre. (Photo by Alberto Romeu)

Andy Christopher adeptly carries the show as Williams himself, conveying the called-for magnetism of the character along with his soulful depths in his alluring vocals. H. Drew Perkins, Jeremy Sevelovitz, Stephen G. Anthony, and Russ Weaver back him up with harmonies and accompaniment, making most of the play’s twenty plus musical numbers rousing ones. In an inventive storytelling touch, Williams’ early mentor Tee Tot goes on to serve as a narrator figure for the rest of the play, allowing actor Chaz Rose to showcase his own outstanding vocal skills as well. 

Having been a few generations too late to have much personal association with Williams, I was still whole-heartedly entertained by these stylings. And, at least early on, one could be forgiven for thinking of this show as more of a feel-good concert held together by relatively sparse bits of story-telling than a fully-fledged theatrical narrative. But as moves to the forefront in Act Two, it gradually becomes clear that these joyous musical interludes are actually held together by Williams’ fairly tragic life story, which ends in his untimely death at only 29 years of age after an alcoholic fall from grace.

                                  Andy Christopher and Stephen G. Anthony in “Hank Williams: Lost Highway” at Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre. (Photo by Alberto Romeu)

This actually isn’t a spoiler even for those who don’t go in knowing the history, since the play is framed by news of the star’s death. But it’s easy to forget where the story is going during Act One, which covers Williams’ youth and uplifting journey to the top of the country music scene. It also takes a relatively light-hearted tone, featuring plenty of amusing banter between the bandmates and the comedic characters of Williams’ domineering Mama Lilly and ditzy wife Audrey, played by exceptional area actresses Elizabeth Dimon and Lindsay Corey.

But by Act Two, the pressures of Williams’ fame have caught up with him, aggravated by his chronic back pain and Audrey’s shallow and shrill mechanisms. Self-medication with alcohol and drugs are Williams only solution, and we see his boozing ways wreak havoc on his life and inflict collateral damage on everyone who cares about him, including his aforementioned bandmates, producer Fred Rose (Barry Tarallo), and even his fans through the inclusion of a waitress (Sofia Purcel) who recounts a brief encounter with the singer.

                                                                       The cast of Hank Williams: Lost Highwayat Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre. Photo by Alberto Romeu

Though the play retells this story in relatively broad strokes rather than diving deeper into Williams’ life circumstances in all their fascinating specificity, the overall arc is still an effective and affecting one. As Willliams, Christopher has enough charisma to remain likable even during his descent and enough range to make his torment ring true, creating a moving portrait of a musician whose pain seems to be inextricably linked to his artistry. 

While the show still doesn’t fully transcend the usual jukebox musical pitfalls, you’re unlikely to find a better produced or better performed version of the show than Actor’s Playhouse’s rendition, with no noticeable weak links to be found amidst the energetic, committed ensemble. 

Fans of the singer and novices alike are likely to find much to enjoy in this fitting tribute to the legend’s legacy, which you can catch at Miami’s Miracle Theatre only until this July 31

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