AZ Is First Stop for Hank Williams: Lost Highway Nov. 26; Kansas City and Dallas Follow

News   AZ Is First Stop for Hank Williams: Lost Highway Nov. 26; Kansas City and Dallas Follow Arizona Theatre Company is the first resident troupe to present a new 2005-06 co-production of Hank Williams: Lost Highway, featuring members of the New York cast of the musical bio of the legendary country singer.
Van Zeiler in Hank Williams: Lost Highway.
Van Zeiler in Hank Williams: Lost Highway.

Van Zeiler, who played Williams one performance a week in the commercial Off-Broadway run of the show in 2003, again takes the title role, beginning Nov. 26 at the Temple of Music and Art in Tucson. Three ATC engagements (in Tucson, Phoenix and Mesa) will be followed by stops in Kansas City and Dallas in 2006.

"His legacy still shapes American music more than 50 years after his death," according to ATC production notes. "From his early days in the honky-tonks around his home state of Alabama, to his famous days at the Grand Ole Opry, Hank Williams is one of the masters of American roots music."

Hank Williams: Lost Highway is co-authored by Randal Myler and Mark Harelik, creators of the hit play, The Immigrant. Myler also directs.

The musical "follows the life of a country music legend who begins as a poor and sickly child raised by his opinionated and church-going mother, Lilly, and learns about music from Tee-Tot, an African-American blues musician. As Hank puts together his band, The Drifting Cowboys, it becomes clear that he is something special, and by the time Hank is on-top-of-the-world playing at the Grand Ole Opry, it seems that life cannot get any better. But despite all his success and fame, he is unable to shake his troubles with alcohol, drugs and women."

The cast of 10 actor-musicians, most of them vets of the New York production of Hank Williams: Lost Highway, includes Van Zeiler, who also played the title role at Actors Theatre of Louisville. Zeiler played the title role in London's hit West End production of Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, as well as the U.K. and U.S. national tours, where he earned a Jefferson Award nomination as Best Actor in a Musical. "I'm really proud to have been a part of this show, as I feel it brings the entire genre of 'musical-bio' shows to a new level," Zeiler told Playbill.com in the weeks leading up to production. "I think it's a really great play in its own right, even if you were to take the music out of it — Randy and Mark have created a show that is truly a play with music, and when you take into account that the music is some of the greatest ever written, it heightens it even more. I didn't know a whole lot about Hank when I was cast to play the role, but by being a part of this show and educating myself about his place in the history of music, it’s been a real eye-opener. I came more from a background in classic rock music, so it's been fun for me to discover the extent of Hank's influence on the rock music I grew up listening to."

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The troupe features Mississippi Charles Bevel (as Tee-Tot), H. Drew Perkins (as Leon "Loudmouth"), Stephen G. Anthony (as Hoss), Margaret Bowman (as Mama Lilly), Patricia Dalen (as The Waitress), Mike Regan (as Fred Rose "Pap"), Regan Southard (as Audrey Williams), Myk Watford (as Burrhead) and Russ Weaver (as Shag).

Performances play Tucson to Dec. 17, followed by engagements in Phoenix Dec. 29-Jan. 22, 2006, at the Herberger Theater Center; and Mesa Feb. 3-12, 2006, at the Mesa Arts Center. This 2005-06 staging is a co-production with Kansas City Repertory Theatre, where it will play from March 1-26, 2006, and Dallas Theater Center, where it will play April 18-May 14, 2006.

Dan Wheetman (music director) previously designed ATC's production of It Ain't Nothin' but the Blues. He is co-author of It Ain't Nothin' But the Blues, which was nominated for four Tony Awards and received a DramaLogue Award for Musical Direction for Hank Williams: Lost Highway at the Mark Taper Forum. His music-infused plays Appalachian Strings and Fire on the Mountain, written with director Randal Myler, were performed at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Denver Center Theatre Company, Meadow Brook Theatre, Virginia Stage Company, San Diego Repertory Theatre and the Barter Theatre in Virginia.

The creative team includes Vicki Smith (scenic designer), Robert Blackman (costume designer), Don Darnutzer (lighting designer), Eric Stahlhammer (sound designer); and Bruno Ingram (stage manager).

For ticket information for the Phoenix and Mesa runs of Hank Williams: Lost Highway, call the ATC box office in Phoenix at (602) 256-6995 or visit www.arizonatheatre.org.

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Zeiler spelled the multi-nominated, Obie-winner Jason Petty once the show transfered commercially to the Little Shubert Off-Broadway in March 2003. Manhattan Ensemble Theater (www.met.com) opened the musical's Manhattan premiere in December 2002, and advised Randal Myler to change the name of the show to Hank Williams: Lost Highway for marketing purposes. It starred Jason Petty at MET. The MET production was nominated for the Lortel, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards, and won the Obie Award.

Hank Williams closed to make way for the New York City debut of Golda's Balcony at MET, and Hank transfered to the Little Shubert with the same cast. Zeiler performed Saturday matinees at the Little Shubert because Jason Petty could only do seven shows a week.