Infinity Theatre’s Hank Williams: Lost Highway
Two for one: great music plus the life of a talented, tormented man
Lost Highway, at Infinity Theatre gives two exceptional entertainments at once. First, we are treated to great music from a bygone era, authentically presented with superb musicianship. Then, within that broad framework, we see the life of a talented, tormented man. Lost Highway is far more than a musical revue.
In his day, Hank Williams was the superstar of country music or, as it was then known, Hillbilly Music. (Full disclosure: I grew up in that era; you couldn’t turn on the radio without hearing Hillbilly Music. As often as not, it was ol’ Hank twanging away.)
The faultless musical numbers are alone worth the price of admission. Every number is true to the original Hank Williams rendition — so close that I looked for signs of lip-synching — Not! Every tune (21 of them) has the audience clapping in unison. I especially liked Your Cheating Heart, Jambalaya and Hey, Good Lookin’, although I hasten to add that these are personal likes for every song is as good as every other.
The arc of Williams’ tragic life is intermingled with the music in such a way that audience emotions are played with as on a rollercoaster ride. That, together with fine acting, makes this play exceptional, for Jason Petty is as close the real Hank Williams as it is possible to be.
The sheer joy of the musical performance gives way to pity as we watch the collapse of a great talent.
So for comic relief, we are treated to corny banter of the kind that was de rigeur on country music radio stations.
Player 1: “My wife says I’m the most handsome man she’s ever seen.”
Player 2: “I didn’t know your wife was blind.”
Not so funny here on paper, but stated rapid fire with other corny-isms, it is.
Hank’s dominating mother supported his musical career, which started when he was 13. He quickly caught the eye, and the ear, of Nashville music executives, and his career took off. But there was darkness in Hank’s life: He was born with spina bifida and became addicted to alcohol and painkillers. He often showed up drunk onstage, and colleagues found it increasingly difficult to work with him. Along the way, he married Audrey, a lady of limited talent who was sure that she had the makings of a superstar. Hank gave her a chance onstage, then fired her. Hank’s mama had a tense relationship with Audrey, with Hank stuck in the middle between mama and wife.
Hank Williams died at age 29 in the back seat of a powder blue Cadillac.
All this, and more, is captured on stage. Every performer gives a sterling performance, with Jason Petty as the standout core of the play. Imagine the practice that went into developing the Hank Williams persona. Petty even looks like Williams. The band comprises three kinds of guitar, a fiddle and a standup bass, all played by consummate musicians who are also convincing actors.
Audrey Womble gives a fine performance of wife Audrey, a naïve wannabe who nevertheless has Hank’s best interests at heart. Mama is played by Becky Barta, who shows what tough means as she does her best to keep her wayward son in line.
Infinity Theatre has found the perfect venue for its productions. The theater is roomy with excellent acoustics perfect for a musical production. With shows of this caliber, Infinity Theatre will be around for a long time.