"Hank Williams: Lost Highway" Star Reflects on his Career, Show

Matthew Brumlow is a Chicago actor who plays the soulful country singer Hank Williams fives times each week in “HankHank-Williams-Lost-Highway-Hank-BANNER-flat Williams: Lost Highway,” the drama/musical about Williams now in an extended run at Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. On Aug. 21, Brumlow, the star of the show, was honored with a nomination for a 2014 Joseph Jefferson Award for Actor in a Principal Role – Musical. (The American Blues Theater show itself was nominated in the Midsize Musical Production category, while its director, Damon Kiely, was nominated in the Director – Musical category.)

Audrey-Hank-150x150Brumlow, 40, lives in the city’s West Ridge neighborhood, on the northwest side, with his wife, fellow actor Cora Vander Broek (who portrays Audrey, Hank Williams’ wife in the show). Born and raised in Conyers, Ga., a small community about twenty miles east of Atlanta, Brumlow was an English major in college, at Lee University in Tennessee, where he graduated summa cum laude.

In a recent e-mail exchange, Brumlow said, speaking of his undergraduate years at Lee, “the Theatre bug fully bit me there.” After undergrad, he moved north for graduate school, studying theatre at Northwestern University. “And when I wrapped up my program there,” the handsome, affable actor said, “it made sense to me to stay in Chicago and try this acting thing.” Reflecting on his adopted hometown, Brumlow Hank Williams Aug. 2014 post-show 1continued, “I quickly fell in love with the city and the theatre community here. It truly is one of the best scenes in the world for theatre.”

And Brumlow is speaking from experience. He has worked as an actor in numerous cities and states across the U.S. Though he considers Chicago’s American Blues Theater as his “first theatre family,” he has trod the boards all over what he calls the “regional theatre circuit,” including at the Actors Theatre of Louisville, the Milwaukee Rep, and at the Indiana Rep in Indianapolis, which he calls “a home away from home.” Some favorite roles in Indianapolis were the title role in “Hamlet,” and Hannay in “The 39 Steps.” In 2011, Brumlow first began what he deemed his “Hank experience” in a solo show called “Nobody Lonesome for Me,” which played to sold-out houses at the Milwaukee Rep and then at American Heartland Theatre in Kansas City.

In addition to stage work, Brumlow has in recent years also acted in numerous film projects, often alongside his wife, Cora Vander Broek. For example, a film both appeared in, “Where We Started,” recently premiered in LA, New York and Seattle to good reviews, and is available for rental or purchase on Amazon. (The film is an intriguing glimpse into what happens one night when two thirty-something married people meet in a motel’s parking lot.) Looking ahead, a film featuring both actors, “Of Minor Prophets,” is scheduled for release this fall. Of the project, Brumlow said, “Cora is going to blow people away in it.”

Hank Williams Lost Highway poster Brumlow reflected on his current stage show, “Hank Williams: Lost Highway.” Via e-mail, he said, “Ultimately, it is a great rush when we all get out there and things are cooking. You can feel a very palpable energy exchange between audience and cast…especially when the band is in the pocket on a particular number…it really does feel like we are in a rockin’ honky-tonk joint with a rowdy crowd some nights which is such a rush.”

 

Text by Lawrence Hartmann.  Photographs by Violetta Muzychenko; and by Johnny Knight Photography, from americanbluestheater.com.

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