Theater Review: The Hank Legacy

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Studio Tenn presents:
The Hank Legacy: The Songs of Hank Williams (Aug. 29 – Sept. 15; Ages 10 and older)
The Franklin Theater
419 Main St., Franklin
538-2076 • studiotenn.com
Show times: Thu- Fri 7 p.m., Sat 2 and 7 p.m., Sun 2 p.m.
Tickets: $47.50 – $67.50

A musical masterpiece full of magic hit the stage last night at the Franklin Theater with Studio Tenn’s opening show of its fourth season with The Hank Legacy: The Songs of Hank Williams.

Studio Tenn Artistic Director Matt Logan made a wise move in ditching Lost Highway (the company’s original choice also based on the music of Hank Williams that has a sketchy narrative) to create Studio Tenn’s first original work, a musical revue of one of the most legendary names in country music history. And it’s a world premiere right here in Music City that I hope makes its way to Broadway. It needs to find its way there!

An extraordinary cast of talent sets foot on the impeccable stage set (also designed by Logan) that takes the audience right into the honky-tonk atmosphere where Williams performed. In fact, before the show and during intermission, you can go on the stage and purchase a festive beverage at the bar if you’d like!

That’s fun, of course, but getting down to the brass tacks here is the music, the songs and how they’re all doled out. Admittedly, I’m skeptical of a lot of things, and when I learned that Studio Tenn was mounting this show with females in the cast, I scratched my head. I’m a country music purist when it comes to the real legends and couldn’t get my head around the idea of women singing Hank’s songs. Before experiencing the show, I was wanting this to be an all-male cast to perform the songs of such a legend.

All I can say now is thank goodness for the artistic vision that Logan strongly possesses that made me look at these legendary tunes in a whole new way. He picked a superb cast — Matt Haeck, Carrie Tillis, Patrick Thomas, Will Solomon, Libby Hodges, Val Storey, Jillian Edwards and Don Chaffer — and most of the members fill in the backup band by playing instruments themselves. And LOVE how the female cast serves up the songs, especially Hodges’ fantastic delivery of “Honky Tonk Blues!” What an unforgettable and amazing performance!

Hank Williams had more than 200 songs in his repertoire, and unfortunately he died at the tender age of 29. Logan strategically picked 36 of the best tunes that tells a story, and it is all perfect. The beauty of this show, without any dialogue, is that the songs chosen tell Hank’s story — from his fun-lovin’, raucous honky-tonkin’ days to heartbreaking reality and his quest for redemption and salvation.

What I enjoyed the most about this show is that everyone in the cast didn’t just sing an old song. It’s obvious that everyone on that stage embraces the passion and emotion behind the lyrics. They make it real, and breathe a contemporary flair into traditional country tunes.

The three standing ovations in the first set are much deserved — “You Win Again,” “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and “Jambalya.” A standout gem aside from those is the classic, “Hey, Good Lookin,'” which Logan turned into a fierce duet that Hodges takes the lead on and Thomas fills out with aplomb. I love the contemporary take on these classic songs, and really appreciate the scaled back traditional nod given to both “There’s a Tear in My Beer” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” both succinctly and passionately delivered by Haeck.

If you’re a fan of Hank Williams’ music, you’re gonna love this show. If you’re not familiar with his stuff, this is a perfect introduction to it that will make you want more. Make it a date night with your honey, or go ahead and take the kids with you. Everyone should be able to experience such a great night of musical majesty!

Chad Young is the managing editor and arts/entertainment editor for this publication.

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