Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Also see Fred's review of American Son
Woody Sez is a rather simply yet effectively told evening of theatre and, with such classic songs as "This Land Is Your Land" and "Goin' Down That Road Feelin' Bad," it floats along on a tide of good will and good music, capturing the essence of Woody Guthrie. The curtain is up when the audience arrives, and scenic designer Luke Cantarella has created an attractive set, filling the stage with pictures of Guthrie, as well as images from the time Guthrie lived. to these songs.
Ivoryton Playhouse is extremely fortunate to have co-creator David M. Lutken playing the title role. Lutken embodies Woody Guthrie so fully that it is hard to separate the actor from the character. And, although he has performed Woody Sez all around the world for years, Lutken's performance feels completely fresh and vital. I saw him a couple of years ago at Goodspeed Opera House, where he brought the same easygoing air and authority to the role of Will Rogers in a production of The Will Rogers Follies. This actor seems irreplaceable as Woody Guthrie, but it must be noted that Lutken is only performing in this production through November 1st. After that, Andy Christopher will be filling his shoes as Guthrie and will continue through the end of the run. No doubt, Christopher will bring his own personality and qualities to the part.
For whoever is taking on this massive role, Woody Sez is truly about the songs that this artist created. There are many highlights throughout the show, with particularly standout numbers being "This Train Is Bound for Glory" and "Oklahoma Hills." Surrounding the title character is a trio of spectacular talents in their own right: Darcie Deaville, David Finch, and Maggie Hollinbeck are all superb, and they seamlessly play multiple instruments and multiple characters as needed. There is quite a lot of story to tell in Woody Sez, but the show breezes by, with excellent staging and pacing by director Nick Corley.
In addition to bringing out the best in all of his performers, Corley works splendidly with his designers, featuring fine contributions by costume designer Jeffrey Meek and especially awesome lighting design by Marcus Abbott. Everyone works together to create a glorious portrait and persona of this man. One only has to hear "Pastures of Plenty" or "The Ballad of Tom Joad" or "I Ain't Got No Home" to be transported to the 1930s and 1940s, and to the glories and the heartaches that Guthrie lived through.
At the performance I attended, the audience was collectively moved to its feet by the final song, "This Land Is Your Land," with each chorus growing more and more powerful. There is quite a lot of emotion and transcendence of spirit in Woody Sez, with the entire cast of performers onstage giving their all to every moment. This sense of identity and courage feels enormously welcome in the present day, sending the audience out with a fulfilled and satisfied feeling.
Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie runs through November 10, 2019, at Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main Street, Ivoryton CT. For tickets and information, please visit www.ivorytonplayhouse.org or call the box office at 860-767-7318.