Strong Performances and Exciting Music Carry Hank Williams: Lost Highway

Categories: Music, Stage

Photo by Bruce Bennett
Katie Barton as Audrey and Ben Hope as Hank in Hank Williams: Lost Highway
The set-up:
Hank Williams: Lost Highway chronicles the rise and fall of one of country music's icons, as Hank Williams travels from rural Alabama to record-selling success and stardom at Nashville's Grand Ole Opry.

The execution:
The drama unfolds on an interesting set by prolific designer Jodi Brobowsky (whose work currently can be seen in two other Houston productions as well), with a simple central stage framed on one side by a rural Alabama shanty and on the other the counter to a bar. The African-American mentor to Hank, Rufus Payne (nick-named Tee-Tot) occupies one side and a waitress stands behind the counter in the other. The play opens slowly as Hank's mother, played with power and restraint by Margaret Bowman, muses after his death on his fringed white performance jacket, then in flashbacks we see Hank meeting with Tee-Tot and the band being formed.

Ben Hope plays Hank and has the guitar skills, voice, and looks to capture the performer's charisma and lady-killing appeal. Wayne Dehart plays Tee-Tot in a low-key, effective and moving performance that comes close to stealing the show, and his singing reveals the love of music that inspired Hank. After the necessary background information, the show springs to theatrical life as the microphone is grabbed and the songs come bursting forth. And the magic amps up with classics such as "Honky Tonk Blues" and even more with "I Can't Help It if I'm Still in Love with You." The onset of Hank's problem with alcohol emerges and grows, but the Grand Ole Opry nonetheless finally books him, and the overwhelming success of his debut adds rocket fuel to his career.

The career is guided by Pap, a music publisher who became Hank's agent, and Ralph Ehntholt plays him with dignity and authority. The Drifting Cowboys Band is comprised of Brian Gunter on guitar, who also does well as an actor in his conflicts with Hank, Drew Perkins on fiddle and Stephen G. Anthony on bass, all accomplished musicians that do Hank proud. The distaff side is Katie Barton as Hank's wife Aubrey and Sara Gaston as the waitress, and both are quite good.

The second act, as Hank edges further into addiction, is necessarily less light-hearted, but writers Randal Myler (who also directed) and Mark Harelik adroitly find a way to restore the triumphant note of musical genius even here.

The verdict:
Strong performances, Ben Hope's charisma as Hank Williams, an exciting band, and the country songs you know and love all merge seamlessly together to create a most enjoyable entertainment. See it - you'll love it.

Through September 4, Stages, 3201 Allen Parkway, 713-527-0123.

Location Info


Stages Repertory Theatre

3201 Allen Parkway, Houston, TX

Category: General

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Just a little historical note on Hank: While the Grand Ole Opry shows kicked Hank's career into high gear, he had a falling out with the Grand Ole Opry, mostly about his drinking. Hank then drove to Shreveport, Louisiana and became the headliner for a practically unheard of place called The Louisiana Hayride. The Louisiana Hayride took off after that and became a nationally known country music venue. Hank Williams Jr. was born in Bossier City, Louisiana. I grew up near there and everybody listened to Hank Williams on the Louisiana Hayride radio show.


In 1948 I was 16 years old working on a chicken farm in Toms River, N.J.   I was finished with my work and took a long walk with my Stella guitar to the Toms River diner,  At the diner I sat on a wall and started to play my guitar.  A man came up to me and asked if he could borrow my guitar.  I handed it to him and he started playing and singing with it. I was surprised when the man sang 16 country songs (I counted them).  I still remember at that time the man had a yodel in his voice which disturbed me at my age and his friends were coming out of the diner and asking if he needed any assistance.  When he was  finished he gave me my guitar back and thanked me.  Many, many years later I thought about that time.  What stranger would know 16 songs complete? He was in his late 20's and sung with a yodel.  Today, I believe that man was Hank Williams.   


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