Monday, March 19, 2012

Theatre at Arts Garage: Woody Sez (2 reviews)

The Theatre at Arts Garage opened Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie on March 16, 2012
Woody Sez is a joyous, toe-tapping, and moving theatrical concert event that uses Woody's words, and over twenty-five of Woody's songs to transport the audience through the fascinating, beautiful, and sometimes tragic life of Woody Guthrie. Performed by a talented group of four versatile actor/musicians who not only play 15 instruments ranging from guitar and fiddle to jaw harp and dulcimer, but they also bring to life the many people who are the fabric of Woody Guthrie's amazing story.
Nick Corey directed a cast that included David Lutken, Helen J. Russel, Megan Loomis, and David Finch.

Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
Of course, any musical revue of Woody Guthrie’s work must end with the anthem “This Land Is Your Land.” What the musical revue Woody Sez at Arts Garage does is put that expression of patriotism and brotherhood in a sobering context of Guthrie’s chastening life experiences.
And it goes without saying that on this, the centenary of his birth, the issues he wrote and sang about have a deafening resonance in these days of class warfare, 99 percenters and Occupy Wall Street. That said, Woody Sez is a rousing and touching production as affable and winning as David M. Lutken who narrates and sings as a stand-in for Guthrie.

He and equally skilled compatriots, David Finch, Megan Loomis and Helen Jean Russell, expertly play an orchestra’s worth of acoustic instruments from harmonica to mandolin, banjo to fiddle, jaw harp to spoons. They deliver more than 25 Guthrie songs illustrating the troubadour’s life and the tumultuous social upheaval he documented in his huge songbook.
A man sitting at the table with us said, “Folk music, not Walt Whitman, is the poetry of America.” The show goes a long way for making that case with crackerbarrel lyrics like “It’s hard to tumble we’ve you’ve got no to place to fall.”  And there’s the entire six-minute epic “The Ballad of Tom Joad” summarizing Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath that this productions weaves stanza by stanza through the production.

What chokes your throat in this show is the profound pride in being the heir to people who despite struggling with real hardship, still believed in the inherent goodness of their neighbors and saw worth in banding together with them to make a better world for everyone. Pride, and shame at what we sometimes seem to have lost.
Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
With Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie, the theater is up and running, offering a first hint at what the theater component at Delray Beach’s bustling new arts complex could become if Tyrrell’s vision has the time and backing it needs to develop.
Read more here:
Granted, this modest four-person revue wasn’t produced or directed by Tyrrell. It’s a piece that has traveled around Europe and the United States... But two of the four performers, David M. Lutken and Helen J. Russell, were part of the cast when Tyrrell’s Pope Theatre Company (the precursor to Florida Stage) presented the Carbonell Award-nominated Woody Guthrie’s American Song in 1994. So the Theatre at Arts Garage is starting small and familiar in its cozy space, with grander plans ahead.
...if the narration sometimes seems as prone to rambling as Guthrie himself, the show’s nearly three dozen songs are its treasures, expertly and beautifully delivered by Lutken, Russell, Megan Loomis and David Finch. Under Nick Corey’s direction, the four sing solos, duets and as a finely blended quartet, accompanying themselves on guitars, mandolin, fiddle, upright bass, dulcimer, autoharp – just about anything with singing strings – and harmonica.
During this centenary of Guthrie’s birth, it is sobering to realize how many of Guthrie’s musically rich, observant songs apply to our 21st century troubles. Woody Sez is a modest show, part theater, part concert. But as with so much of the theater that inspires Tyrrell, it’s a piece that provokes thought as it entertains.
Theatre at Arts Garage presents Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie through April 8, 2012.

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