Studio Tenn's Hank Williams revue is long on songs, short on story 

Hank's for the Memories

Hank's for the Memories

The Hank Legacy: The Songs of Hank Williams, Studio Tenn's new original revue, is, as the title suggests, more a concert than a theatrical production. A creation of company co-founders Matt Logan and Jake Speck, the piece bypasses the particulars of the late, great singer-songwriter's life and legend, focusing only on his mostly familiar country and gospel tunes, delivered sure-handedly by an ensemble composed of talented singers and musicians.

The program doesn't list all the songs — I'm guessing there were 30, if not more — nor the order in which they are presented, nor which cast members are singing them. This kind of blind democracy may be an intentional attempt to downplay Williams' celebrity (or his notoriety), but it also results in the numbers coming at us one right after another, absent of any context or window for reflection.

That may be fine for purists who revere Williams' musical stature, but with no unifying theatrical concept, the more than two-and-a-half hours of uninterrupted music gets a little monotonous and cries out for some greater sense of context or justification.

Act 1 runs almost 75 minutes and serves up fairly conventional treatments of Hank tunes. Act 2 offers reworkings of classics — "Your Cheatin' Heart," "There's a Tear in My Beer," "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," and "Lost Highway," to name a few — with unexpected rhythms and harmonies and interesting stylistic rearrangements. These performances demonstrate the universal and timeless appeal of Williams' songs, so in that sense, his legacy is acknowledged.

The four women singers turn in strong performances. Val Storey, Libby Hodges and Carrie Tillis all sound a bit like Dolly Parton, while Jillian Edwards strikes an alt-country tone distinguished by an impressive falsetto. The four singing men, including musical director Don Chaffer, are versatile and confident as well, often embodying the energy of a Hank-themed pickin' party, with side trips into rock 'n' roll and even one Robert Plant-ish vocalization.

If concerts are what you like, The Hank Legacy provides one — with all the conviviality and supportive, squeaky-clean ambience of one of Bill Gaither's "Homecoming" events, the conclusion of each song acknowledged by the players with affirming nods of the head or brief gentle hugs. But without some sort of connecting thread or unifying theme, all our admiration for the music-making — or for Hank, for that matter — tends to lose its hold.

Certainly there is plenty of good music to be heard here, all of it rendered with professionalism and reverence. It's a long evening, though, and there's little theater involved.

Studio Tenn's next show is Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods, Oct. 17-Nov. 3. (Expect some gratifying dialogue with the excellent music.)

Party animals

Never mind the Lunts — the real first couple of the American theater is George and Martha from Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Boiler Room Theatre's new mounting of the scathing boozefest — as always, an entertaining indictment of New England academia, marriage and vile emotional gamesmanship — has enough to recommend it, mainly the determined leading performances of Jamey Green and Trish Crist.

The casting of the leading duo provides a useful visual contrast. Crist seems to have the upper hand early on, a notion accentuated by her superior height. But leave it to Everyman George — Green, in graduate-level cardigan and consistently well-played attack mode — to wear his desperate missus down with withering assaults on her very core.

The unsuspecting young couple who arrive at 2:30 a.m. for the regretful after-party shenanigans are played with general success by Jeffrey Adams and Corinne Bupp, the latter making her BRT and Tennessee theatrical debut.

The contributions of first-time director Jayme Smith are not readily apparent in most of the scenes, but the production is generally cohesive, effectively portraying the script's manic unpleasantness. Alas, Act 3 drags noticeably and seems lacking in focus, and the running time approaches the three-and-a-half-hour mark, a detraction that may have improved since the opening weekend.

The production continues at The Factory at Franklin through Sept. 14.




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