‘Woody Sez’ takes a close look at Guthrie’s life
David Lutken plays Woody Guthrie in "Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie." Lutken co-wrote the show with director Nick Corley.
‘Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie’
at Northlight Theatre in the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie
7:30 p.m. Tuesdays (except Sept. 25, Oct. 2 and 16); 1 p.m. (except Sept. 26) and 7:30 p.m. (except Oct. 10) Wednesdays; 7:30 p.m. Thursdays; 8 p.m. (except 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 21) Fridays; 2:30 p.m. (except Sept. 15) and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. (except Sept. 23, Oct. 7 and Oct. 21) Sundays; Sept. 22 - Oct. 21. Previews run Sept. 14 - 20; opening night is Sept. 21
$25 - $72
(847) 673-6300, www.northlight.org
Updated: September 13, 2012 9:20AM
It would be a challenge to find someone who doesn’t know at least one Woody Guthrie song.
From “This Land is Your Land” to “Worried Man” and countless other songs that Guthrie either wrote or adapted, the multitalented performer left his mark on American musical history.
Although there have been shows focused on Woody Guthrie’s music, little has been told onstage about the life of the man who died in 1967. David M. Lutken decided to rectify that with “Woody Sez—The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie,” which opens Sept. 14 at Northlight Theatre. Lutken, who stars as Guthrie, co-wrote the show with director Nick Corley.
Corley said that Lutken “wanted to tell the story of Woody’s struggles and triumph.”
“I’ve done quite a few American music shows in the last 25 or 30 years,” Lutken said, with a hint of a drawl. “I wrote some children’s shows about American history and music in the United States, and one of them was a show about Woody Guthrie called, ‘This Land is Your Land.’ Woody’s old manager, Harold Leventhal, told me that one of these days I ought to do a show for grown-ups.”
That’s what Lutken did in 2007, with the help of collaborator Corley, who he met in 1995 when they were both in a production of “Elmer Gantry” in Washington D.C. “I set about to find out everything that I could that was published of Woody’s, predominantly his autobiography, ‘Bound for Glory,’ that I had read many years before when I was in high school,” Lutken said. “But also, for this particular show, I was inspired when Harold Leventhal handed me a copy of the published newspaper columns that Woody had written in 1939, ‘40 and ‘41, ‘Woody Sez.’”
Through his research, Lutken learned that Guthrie’s life “was quite tragic in many senses—and quite interesting and eccentric in other ways. Once I looked further into what I already knew, it increased the depth of what I realized he had accomplished with his music and his poetry and his writings.
“In his thousand or so songs, about two or three hundred times, he really hit the nail on the head,” Lutken continued, particularly with his antiwar and labor movement songs in the 1930s and ’40s.
“In that time period, he’s one of the few people that gave voice to the common man and their struggles,” Corley said. “Because of his childhood, and being displaced and alone, he understood what it was like to have no one in your corner. But instead of turning those into sad ballads, there was always a humor and an irony and a sense of joy.”
“His use of old tunes to which he would write new lyrics is a big part of his universal appeal,” Lutken added.
Corley admitted that before starting this project, “Like many people, I knew some of the hits but wasn’t as aware of the vast amounts of music and words that he had created.”
While researching this show, Corley reported, “One of the first things I watched was the ‘American Experience’ series on PBS. They did one on Woody Guthrie and, oddly enough, one of the only songs that was not sung by Woody Guthrie on it was done by David and a few of the other cast members.”
In the show, Lutken said, “Woody takes everybody through his life and experiences.” Darcie Deaville, David Finch and Helen Jean Russell play all the people in Guthrie’s life. Since the cast members are all professional musicians, as well as actors, they provide the show’s music.
Guthrie considered himself an outsider, Lutken concluded, “And Woody did a pretty good job of writing the poetry of that feeling.”
“It’s such a complex life,” Corley added.”But, in spite of all the tragedy in his life, there’s this joyous spirit in the music.”~