Michael Bergeron
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I Saw the Light

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Hanks Williams burnt the candle at both ends. Williams known for such songs as “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” among others. Another Williams song, this one from 1948, is the title of a fascinating biopic on Williams’ life – I Saw the Light.

Williams died in the back seat of a car on the way to a concert on January 1, 1953 at the age of 29. This incident happens off screen in I Saw the Light. An early low budget version of Williams’ charmed career was made with George Hamilton in 1964. Legend has it that when the audience was informed that Williams had passed away people stood up and started singing “I Saw the Light.”

Hamilton’s singing was dubbed but in the new version, which opens at the River Oaks Theatre this weekend, Tom Hiddleston does the vocals in addition to inhabiting the spirit of the lanky country music icon. Elizabeth Olsen plays Hank’s first wife and Maddie Hasson plays the second Mrs. Williams.

I Saw the Light presents Hank’s career in an A-to-Z manner. Williams was obsessed with appearing at the Grand Ole Opry yet by the time he was big enough to be invited he was already on the way to alcohol and drug addiction. Hank’s habit was only exacerbated by his medical condition of Spina Bifida, which caused him lifelong pain.

Hiddleston certainly looks the part when he’s decked out in a white suit with musical notions and wearing a big hat. Hiddleston also seizes upon the aspect of male libido that made Williams a rock star long before the era of Penny Lane groupies. At its best I Saw the Light captures the spirit and excitement of old school country music and the people who made it happen.

— Michael Bergeron