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This music is your music

Woody Sez’ at People’s Light

In
2 minute read

Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie, currently playing at People’s Light & Theatre Company in Malvern, does for the great folk singer what Jersey Boys did for Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and the current Broadway hit Beautiful does for Carole King. It’s part biography, part concert. But Guthrie’s songs were so personal, so entwined with what was going on in his life, that this show is as integrated as a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical.

The credits say Woody Sez was “devised by” director Nick Corley and the extraordinary four-member cast, David M. Lutken, Darcie Deaville, Helen J. Russell, and Andy Teirstein. They all do double duty as actors and musicians, playing guitar, fiddle, bass, banjo, and other instruments.

The personable Lutken anchors the show as Guthrie, serving as narrator and slipping in and out of interaction with the other people in the singer’s life. Deaville, Russell, and Teirstein ably back up Lutken in multiple roles, playing Guthrie’s relatives, friends, foes as well as colleagues such as Pete Seeger — whose own turbulent career would make another compelling show.

We learn of Guthrie’s impoverished childhood in Oklahoma, having to deal with a mother who was a pyromaniac; of his adventures riding the rails during the Depression; and of his years as a wandering singer, entertaining people in California migrant camps and union halls. We also learn of his political radicalization and consequent inability to keep a radio job; of his rocky personal life; and eventually, of his struggles with Huntington's disease, which would take his life prematurely in the '60s, just as folk music was experiencing a boom with the arrival of Bob Dylan and others.

Punctuating all of this are 27 of Guthrie’s songs, such as the familiar rousing anthems “This Land Is Your Land” and “This Train Is Bound for Glory.” We tend to forget today that Guthrie had a sly sense of humor, which is on display in “Do Re Mi,” an acrid ditty about the treatment of the poor, and in “Talkin’ New York City 1940,” which deals with his decidedly mixed feelings about the Big Apple.

Luke Hegel-Cantarella’s spare but effective set features a backdrop showing Dust Bowl Oklahoma dotted with pictures of Guthrie at various times in his life.

What, When, Where

Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie. Devised by David M. Lutken with Nick Corley and Darcie Deaville, Helen J. Russell, and Andy Teirstein. Nick Corley directed. Through May 25 at People’s Light & Theatre Company, 30 Conestoga Road, Malvern, PA. 610-644-3500 or http://peopleslight.org/.

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