HANK WILLIAMS: THE SHOW HE NEVER GAVE by Maynard Collins, directed by David Ferry. Presented by Lovesick at the Victory Café (581 Markham). To March 12. $20, stu/srs $15, Sunday pwyc. See Continuing, page 89, for details. 416-536-6468, ext 40. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Okay, personal reveal. Country music's never grabbed me. But I couldn't stop my toe from tapping - nor could the rest of the audience - at Hank Williams: The Show He Never Gave .
Maynard Collins 's piece feels more like a concert than a play, containing over a dozen songs by the country legend. In a fictional 1953 New Year's Eve performance, booze makes Williams increasingly unsteady and more than a bit sentimental.
Backed by a lively down-home band ( Brad Holy , Brendan Cavin , Pete Gray , Kevin Kennedy and Alison Porter ), Zachary Bennett as Williams charms us early on with songs and period patter about Ike, school integration, the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Korean War.
Wearing a trademark suit covered with musical notes, Bennett grabs attention from his first appearance, crooning with style and a twinkle in his eye.
One of the show's highlights is a set of melodies devoted to Williams's first marriage that starts happily and ends dismally. Beginning with Hey, Good Lookin' and Rootie Tootie and seguing into Your Cheatin' Heart and other hurtin' numbers, Bennett creates a mini-drama of first hopeful and then soured love.
There are some little problems. Though Bennett sings in his own alt-country band, Yonder, he's not a yodeller. The mountain-top notes in that unique singing style tend to disappear to a transparent thinness when he goes for them.
And while director David Ferry does a good job engaging us with Williams's descent into a semi-drunken haze in the second half, there's a sameness to the rage and the maudlin emotions.
Most important, though, is Bennett's full commitment to his role, whether he's sending up the Grand Ole Opry for making him change the word "beer" to "milk" in one of his songs or fuming in alcoholic anger.
Emotionally he's always convincing, never stepping outside of Williams's intensity.
That truthfulness works equally well in up-tempo songs like Jambalaya and pour-your-heart-out melodies like I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry.