Saturday, October 05, 2002

Lost Highway (Cleveland Play House)

'LOST HIGHWAY' reveals Hank Williams at CPH

Fifty years after his death Hank Williams is still a country music icon. 'LOST HIGHWAY: THE MUSIC AND LEGEND OF HANK WILLIAMS' reveals his life and legacy, a legend which included such enduring hits as "Your Cheatin’ Heart," "Honky Tonk Blues," "Jambalaya," "Lovesick Blues," "Hey, Good Lookin’," and "Lost Highway." It was a life that included a dysfunctional marriage, alcohol and drug abuse, and a premature death at age 29. It’s a tale worth telling.

Authors Randal Myler and Mark Harelik have developed what might be called a review with dialogue that traces Williams from childhood through death. The play works well until the ending. As written, the script actually has three endings: Williams’ death, his musical resurrection with the song "Your Cheatin’ Heart," and then a tacked on "I Saw the Light." Why the duo decided to go beyond the logical ending is a mystery. They could have saved the two songs for a curtain call if they felt the audience needed to hear these two Williams hits.

Jason Petty, is not only a Hank Williams look-alike, but a Williams sound-alike. He totally captures the man. It is amazing to watch him physically transform himself from the young, dynamic Williams, to the conflicted, withered Williams. Petty is backed up by a gifted group of performers who not only effectively sing and play the instruments of his backup group, the Drifting Cowboys, but are also proficient actors. Cleveland favorite, Mike Hartman, clearly develops Williams manager. Michael W. Howell’s bass voice captivates as a blues singer who influenced Williams in his early years. Margaret Bowman is fine as Williams’ mamma. Only Tertia Lynch fails to develop a believable portrayal as Williams’ wife.

Capsule judgement: If you like Hank Williams you’ll appreciate 'LOST HIGHWAY.' The show is drawing a non-traditional CPH audience. Some attendees were decked out in cowboys shirts, hats and boots. Even some big-haired ladies appeared.