Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron
Woody Sez: The Life & Music of Woody Guthrie
Between 1939 and 1940, Woodrow Wilson "Woody" Guthrie (1912-1967) wrote 174 columns for The Daily Worker, the American Communist newspaper. The title of the column was "Woody Sez" and that became the title of a revue of Guthrie's music, now on tour and playing in the Allen Theatre of the Cleveland Play House.
Guthrie's birth came at a time that would force him to live through the Great Depression and the Oklahoma Dust Bowl. He was a rambling man, seldom able to settle down. This restlessness brought the end of each of his marriages.
His restlessness brought him in contact with blacklisted performers and some members of the American Communist Party. However, he never joined the party. He was close friends with Will Geer, John Steinbeck, Lead Belly and Pete Seeger, and he was a mentor to Bob Dylan. These talented folks inspired him.
Woody Sez: the Life & Music of Woody Guthrie is structured so that Guthrie tells the story of his life. According to materials from the Cleveland Play House, all of the spoken words were written by Guthrie. This music-filled autobiography hits the high points of his life and provides a frame work on which to hang thirty-three of his songs.
David M. Lutken, who is responsible for devising the script, plays Guthrie. He and other colleagues have crafted a meaningful script, which tells enough of Guthrie's life to make the story seem whole, with the music completing the picture of Guthrie. This excellent script and performances help the audience get to know one of the best folk musicians this country has produced. Lutken is a superb actor and singer.
The other cast membersDavid Finch, Helen Jean Russell and Leenya Rideoutplay the other characters in Guthrie's life and sing and play various musical instruments one would find in a folk music concert. The program lists and describes 14 musical instruments used in the performance. David Finch plays the only comic turns in this serious script. He is an excellent actor and singer. Helen Jean Russell plays Guthrie's mother and other characters. Russell does an excellent job of showing the mother's battle with Huntington's Disease, which results in dementia. As she descended deeper into dementia, she was placed in a facility for the mentally ill, where she died.
Guthrie is best known for writing "This Train Is Bound for Glory," "This Land Is Your Land," "I Ain't Got No Home," "Riding in My Car," and more than a thousand other songs and lyrics.
Those who are interested in folk music might make an effort to attend the Sunday matinee. After the performance the cast hosts a hootenanny in the lobby of the Allen Theatre. Folk musicians may bring their instruments and join in an unstructured and free flowing jam session. The performance and intermission run two hours.
Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie
- David Ritchey