By Chris Daly
I had the pleasure of seeing a new play/musical revue about Woody Guthrie the other night at the A.R.T. Theater in Cambridge (Mass.). The show, called “Woody Sez,” is a fantastic telling of Woody’s amazing life, mainly through his own songs. It is nearly a one-man show, featuring David Lutken, who is charming and disarming. He is supported by Andy Teirstein, Darcie Deaville, and Helen Jean Russell — all playing a constantly shifting array of acoustic stringed instruments. All told, they use four guitars (including two old Martins), three fiddles, a viola, a dulcimer, a double bass, a mandolin, and a banjo — along with a bunch of non-string instruments, including autoharp, harmonica, pennywhistle, jaw harp and spoons.
The show is a real hoot. (A special treat: seeing more than a hundred or so egg-heads stomping their feet and clapping time to songs like “Union Made” and “Biggest Thing that Man has Ever Done.”)
There were big chunks of Woody’s life that were familiar from reading Woody’s own 1943 autobiography, Bound for Glory, as well as Joe Klein’s 1980 biography, Woody Guthrie: A Life. Still, “Woody Sez” managed to bring up material that was new to me. I had never noticed how much Woody suffered. Like another great American original , Mark Twain, Woody knew terrible suffering, early and often throughout his life.
Many thanks to David Lutken and his collaborator, Nick Corley for putting this together, and for getting it on-stage in time for the centennial of Guthrie’s birth, which is coming up on July 12.
My only issue is that I would love to see this show break out of the confines of a pricey theater like the A.R.T. and get into every high school, dance hall, barn, and fire station in the country. That’s where this music really belongs.