Play spotlights music legend
“Hank Williams: Lost Highway” is onstage at Lone Tree Arts Center through April 14 — a revisit of a show originally workshopped at the Denver Center for Performing Arts in 1986/87. Director Randal Mylar and music director Dan Wheetman took it to the Manhattan Ensemble Theatre off-Broadway in 2002, and it has played across the U.S. in subsequent years.
They recently brought the John Denver Holiday Concert to Lone Tree.
The production, co-produced by Starkey Theatrix and Lone Tree Arts Center, shows the polish it has acquired, featuring an Equity cast of experienced performers who make it all look easy as they revisit the music and life of this extremely talented/extremely conflicted American legend.
Hank Williams shot to the national scene from backwoods Alabama, writing a total of 35 songs. After a stretch on Grand Ole Opry — and being fired from that show — he died of an overdose in the back seat of his baby blue Cadillac at age 29.
Of those 35 songs, 11 hit number one and have become part of our national fabric, and the 20 songs interwoven into this smoothly composed biographical story all sound familiar. Backed by a versatile band, Hank sings of loneliness and sadness, “Lovesick Blues,” as well as some upbeat numbers such as “Hey Good Lookin'.”
Ryan Nearhoff, a New York-based actor and musician, certainly resembles the online photos of Williams. He is believable in song style and in his picture of a man disintegrating publicly due to alcohol and drugs. His backup band members — who eventually had to give up on him — are all well-developed characters, and three of them have toured with this production elsewhere.
Mama Lily, who helped launch Hank's career, is played by Denver favorite Kathleen Brady, who belts out songs with spirit throughout. His wife Audrey, who also tied into his career, is played by Jamie Ann Romero, and the waitress in Pete's Diner, who enjoys Hank's radio broadcasts and dances to the rhythms at the front edge of the stage, is award-winning Denver actor Rhonda Brown.
Mississippi Charles Bevel plays blues singer Tee-Tot, who taught Hank to play the guitar and sing early on. He is woven into the storyline intermittently from his corner of the stage. Denver audiences know him from the fine production of “It Aint Nothin' But the Blues” produced some years ago at the Denver Center.
Humor and sadness mix in this account of an American favorite. It is skillfully staged, with an overlay of lighting that gives the production a soft patina. It merits a visit for the quality of performances.
If you go
“Hank Williams: Lost Highway” plays through April 14 at Lone Tree Arts Center, 10075 Commons St. Performances: 7:30 p.m. Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 1:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets start at $29, 720-509-1000, LoneTreeArtsCenter.org/hank.