Filament Finds Its Rhythm Traveling Hank Williams' Lost Highway
A little over a stone's throw down Lincoln Avenue from where the Apollo Theatre's evergreen production of Million Dollar Quartet is running, another musical will begin playing for Chicago audiences who can't get enough of that show's mix of familiar vintage songs and music star biographies. That's when the Filament Theatre Ensemble's production of Hank Williams: Lost Highway opens at the Athenaeum Theatre.
Co-directed by Filament Artistic Director Julie Ritchey and Associate Artistic Director Omen Sade, with a book by Randal Myler and Mark Harelik, Hank Williams: Lost Highway is the musical biodrama of the man many consider the father of country music. Hank Williams had 11 number one hits on the Billboard country charts, wrote a body of classic songs that have been covered by everyone from Tony Bennett to George Thorogood, set the blueprint for nearly every country artist that followed him, and was dead before age 30. Lost Highway tells his remarkable life story with a combination of dramatic flashbacks, narration from various characters, and over 20 of Hank Williams' best-known songs, including "Hey Good Lookin'", "Move It On Over", "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry", "Your Cheatin' Heart", and the title song. Filament ensemble member and two-time Jeff Award-winner Peter Oyloe, who is playing Hank, explained the show's appeal recently on the Talk Theatre In Chicago podcast: "[Filament has] always been in love with this genre of music, and Hank Williams in particular is at the pinnacle of this musical genre; he's right at the cusp of where folk music meets blues meets the beginning of country-western music. And so we were really drawn to how smart, well-researched, and beautiful the script is, how funny it is, as well as how entertaining...[and] we love to do at least one production per year that has a large component of music."
In some ways, Williams was the prototypical rock star, predating even Elvis Presley, and his life story is a variation on the timeless rise-and-fall arc. From a hardscrabble Alabama childhood, he came up through the "hillbilly music" circuit, was a fixture on the Grand Ole Opry, and became a superstar before the sudden flood of money and fame, the excesses of the lifestyle and his own lifelong demons did him in.
Besides Oyloe, the cast also includes fellow Filament ensemble member Mary Spearen as Hank's first wife Audrey Williams. Hank's band, the Drifting Cowboys, consists of Sam Quinn on lead guitar, Jesse Woelfel on stand-up bass, Eric Labanauskas on fiddle, and Tim McNulty on pedal steel guitar. "It's been a joy working with this band," says Oyloe. "They have a real respect for the genre and it really comes through in the passion and enthusiasm that they bring to this music." Rounding out the cast are Gerald Richardson as blues singer Tee-Tot, Danon Dastugue as Hank's mother Mama Lilly, Bill O'Neill as record producer Fred Rose, and Bryce Gangel as The Waitress.
Audience members who wish to dig into the life and times of Hank Williams, and all of these characters' histories, more fully either before or after they see the show are encouraged to visit Filament's ongoing blog series at www.filamenttheatre.org/category/blog/hank-williams/.
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