Review by J. A. Di Bello, photos by Jeff Knapp
(ELLENVILLE, NY) August 12, 2014) – There’s not a snowball’s chance in San Juan that any patron, with even a small amount of accumulated mileage, can think of Honky-Tonk music without conjuring images of good ol’ Hank Williams, Sr., the legendary King of Honky Tonkin’. His iconic invitation to the “sad and lonely” remains: “We’ll go honky tonkin’ ‘round this town.” That appealing country twang coupled with well-placed stuttering guitar riffs are now at the Shadowland Theatre in Ellenville, giving an immense shout out to those souls who find pleasure in music, fulfillment in live performance and happiness in fun.
The presentation of events in “Honky-Tonk Highway” is episodic. It details the rise and subsequent demise of fictitious country western singer Clint Colby and his quest for fame, fortune and legend. His backup band, the Mountain Rangers has set aside differences and gathered in a familiar road house to pay tribute to its one-time leader on the anniversary of his unfortunate passing.
A clever and effective narrative devise is employed, as the Rangers have Clint Colby’s legendary hat. As each member takes possession and wears the hat, he is able to assume the character of Clint and via music and skit present the events that carried the band members from the past to the present, from a Tennessee road house to major venues and back to the same little road house. A complete circle, they end where they started.
Scenic Designer, Liz Eli Reid presents a cozy little road house, one obviously devoted to music performance as evidenced by a number Long-Playing (LPs) records that conveniently decorate a rustic and tattered wall and a house stage appropriately adorned with instruments that lend themselves to the genre known as honky-tonk, i.e., a couple of acoustic guitars, steel guitar, a stand-up bass, an upright piano, drums, a wash board on the wall and even though this ain’t Texas, “…you gotta have a fiddle in the band.”
There are twenty-two flawless musical transitions used to tell the story of this play and the sound system is without doubt critical to the presentation. With the exception of a few opening-night glitches the design and implementation by Jeff Knapp was proficient and able to blend the various vocal mixes with the skilled, extremely competent house band consisting Steve Greenfield on the keyboard, Dennis Bisoglio on drums and Anastasia Solberg on the fiddle.
The actors/band members in this production play their own instruments as each is also an accomplished vocalist. David Demato (photo left) gives plausible life to the broken hearted but lovable Darrell Walker, while Nick Landmesser (photo bottom left) presents the character of Curtis Patterson with an enthusiasm that might realistically be attributed to the youngest member of the band. Rounding out the three all-important, supporting members of the Mountain Rangers is Max Miller (photo right) as a credible mature member of the band.
The concept of “support,” as used above, is critical in this fun-loving entertaining production. Without hesitation Lesley McKinnell as Jenine-Kate, the band’s accomplished and traditional female vocalist, and Ben Williams (photo left) as Nat, the unconventional, eccentric band member, carry this show to a level best described as inspired and wholly imaginative. One of the most entertaining scenes, of which there are several, is the band’s relationship with an evangelistic representative of a good ol’ down-home-type Tennessee church. Here, Ben assumes the role of an overly enthusiastic minister, and by means of a series of actions reminiscent of slap-stick hyperbole proclaims that all praise the Lord and prepare for the Day: The Day when “when that heavenly phone rings”; they’ll be called upon; called upon to “Answer the Call.” Priceless theatre!
Lesley McKinnell’s rendition of “I’ll Be There” is a touching and sorrowful lament representing roller-coaster relationships, those that fade in, linger and vanish. They’re a portion of the reality that stubbornly clings to the baggage of a road show. Further and to assign additional credit to the numerous talents of Lesley is her lead and delivery of “Music in this Mountain.” It’s the final and metaphorically significant number in a series of entertaining, thoughtfully produced show tunes, each intelligently designed to represent the essence of an American musical genre known by most as “Honky Tonk.”
Not without note is the fact that Shadowland Theatre is snuggled at the head of the Roundout Valley, carefully caressed on each side by the Shawangunk and the mountains known as Catskills. With the arrival of “Honky-Tonk Highway,” let there be no hesitation: “There is music in this mountain.”
Pleasure, fulfillment and happiness remain available at the Shadowland Theatre through September 7. Located on Canal Street, Ellenville ticket may be obtained on line: www.shadowlandtheatre.org.