Off-Broadway's Manhattan Ensemble Theater (MET), which made an impression in its first season with the star casting of Williams Atherton in The Castle and Robert Prosky in The Golem, not to mention the uniformly well-reviewed Death in Venice, will begin its second season on a musical note.
Hank Williams: Lost Highway, the latest work from Randal Myler ( the man behind It Ain’t Nothin’ but the Blues and Love, Janis), will have its New York premiere at MET Dec. 9, opening on Dec. 19 for a run through Jan. 19, 2003.
Like Love, Janis, which charted the career of rocker Janis Joplin, Lost Highway follows the career of a music legend: bedeviled country singer songwriter Hank Williams. The show follows Williams from his beginnings in Alabama honky tonks to his glory days commanding the charts and the stage of the Grand Ole Opry to his rapid decline into erratic behavior and alcoholism. He died of a heart attack in the back seat of a Cadillac on Jan. 1, 1953. He was 29.
The show is interwoven with 25 Williams songs like "Your Cheatin' Heart," "Jambalaya (On the Bayou)" and "Hey, Good Lookin'" which are now part of the American musical fabric.
Myler co-wrote the show with Mark Harelik and will direct. Nashville native Jason Petty will play lonesome, star crossed Hank, as he currently does at the Cleveland Playhouse, where Lost Highway is playing through Oct. 20. Versions of the show have also played at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles and the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. After the hyper-literary season of 2000-01, a Hank Williams show would seem a departure for MET. However, artistic director David Fishelson told Playbill On-Line, MET's mission was never limited to adaptations of famous novels like Death in Venice, but "to produce new works of theatre derived from such diverse narrative sources as fiction, journalism, film and memoir."
"Last year," said Fishelson, "we most certainly created the impression that we were devoted solely to page-to-stage adaptations of literary classics. My one regret was that I wasn't able to include Franz Kafka's The Castle and Hank Williams: Lost Highway in the same season. The juxtaposition of those two works would've more accurately demonstrated the range of possibilities allowed by the company's mission." Fishelson went on to promise two more additions to the 2002-03 line-up which would stray even further from the library shelves.
—By Robert Simonson