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A CurtainUp Review
Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie
As Moore and O'Reilly have made the Irish Rep the place to see superbly performed, intimately staged plays and musicals with Irish roots, so David M. Lutken devised a tribute to folk music's legendary poet of the people into something that transcends the biographical concert genre.
Given that Woody Sez features more than forty songs, it certainly qualifies as a concert. And with those songs organized to accommodate cradle to grave details about Guthrie's life, it fits the bio-concert genre. But with Lutken singing and playing several instruments as well as acting as Guthrie and the show's narrator, Woody Sez is something much more artful.
Lutken's collaboration with director Nick Corley makes for an extraordinarily entertaining and informative two hours. It's a concept that calls for a cast of just four, though all must be super gifted and extremely versatile.
Mr. Lutken can't be faulted for casting himself in the leading role, for to describe his triple-threat singing, playing and acting as excellent is an understatement. He is a wonder! He makes narrating and actually embodying Woody as easy as peeling a banana. His physical agility is amazing, as are his harmonica playing and guitar picking. His vocal and instrumental skills are probably better than Guthrie's ever were, and as good as the best of still active Guthrie-inspired troubadours like James Taylor and Bob Dylan.
Mr. Lutken's obvious love and admiration for his subject, the joy he takes in singing and playing the music is shared by the very accomplished members of his team. Over the course of two hours the musical instruments arrayed on Luke Hegel-Cantarella's set are all used. The zestfully performed includes favoritss like "The Ballad of Tom Joad", "I Ride an Ol Paint," "Sinking of the Reuben James" and "Union Maid."
Some pictures of Woody at various stages of his life and Jeffrey Meek's class defining costumes, splendidly support the authentic geographic, historic, folksy atmosphere. The high and low spots of Woody's life are make for a varied narrative. Michael Gottlieb's lighting is especially effective in the second act when Lutken's Woody talks about the loss of one of his children.
While audience members are likely to be familiar with many of the songs in the extensive Guthrie canon and even much of his life story, some details about his all too short and full of darkness life will be a revelation. The biographical recollections include the Oklahoma boyhood, the politically inflected concertizing, war service and meet-ups with other folk music luminaries. But, familiar or not, there's something fresh and special about the way it's all woven into the Irish Rep production.
Songs that won't be instantly recognized probably includes "Talkng New York City." But it will of course feel made to order for Irish Rep's audience.
While I began this review by describing Woody Sez as a tribute to folk music's legendary poet of the people, Guthrie himself laid no claim to such a title. As Lutken as Woody puts it: "You may have been taught to call me by the name of the poet but I am no more of a poet than you are. The only story that I've tried to write down has been you." On the other hand, to explain why seeing Woody Sez is one of the best ways to enjoyably view these troubled times through Guthrie's still pertinent perspective, here's Lutken's Woody again: "Unless we do hear the work songs, war songs, love songs and dance songs of all the people everywhere, we are most apt to lose the peace, and this world right along with it."
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Devised by David M Lutken and Nick Corley/ and with Darcie Deaville, Helen Jean Russell, Andy Teirstein
Directed by Nick Corley
Starring: David M Lutken, Darcie Deaville, Helen Jean Russell, Andy Teirstein
Set by Luke-Hegel Cantarella
Costumes designed by Jeffrey Meek
Lighting: Michael Gottlieb
Stage Manager:April Ann Kline
Running time: Two hours 5 minutes, with 1 intermission
Irish Rep, 132 W. 22nd Street
From 6/01/17; opening 6/08/17; closing 7/23/17 -extended to 9/10/17
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 6/03 press preview
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