Currently playing at the Irish Repertory Theatre is a musical revue that has been making the International rounds for the last ten years appropriately titled “Woody Sez: the life and music of Woody Guthrie.” The cast of four perform about forty musical numbers from Guthrie’s songbook that conquer the feelings, sights, hardships, and situations he experienced: from the Great Depression, the dust bowl, the westward movement and World War Two. Interspersed between musical numbers are stories about his personal life, travels, family and tragedies that inspired his writing and music. The evening is kept at a good steady pace by the competent direction of Nick Corley. When these songs were written they needed no introduction or clarification. The lyrics spoke out against what was wrong and what needed to be changed. They were not only songs of protest but stories about the hardships of the people across America to let them know they could not and should not be forgotten. Perhaps, at certain times during this production, the power of the song is diminished by the informative introduction but for the most part it serves this production.
The overly skilled cast travels through the evening exercising their wide range of vocal ability while playing an incredible array of different instruments including fiddles, guitars, base, zithers and even spoons, to name just a few. Megan Loomis, David M. Lutken, Helen Jean Russell and Andy Teirstein appear as the rural Everyman from the thirties and forties, clad in country garb spouting accents covering a good cross section of Middle America. Alone they are determined, when paired they are one and when together they are a fierce celebration of the time, place and movement. They enjoy the music, themselves, each other and the audience but always keep a good focus on the essence of the lyric and the purpose of the song. The only concern is that at times the cast feels too comfortable with the material and each other void of spontaneity which aborts the integrity of the composition.
Hearing the ever so familiar “This Train is Bound for Glory,” “Mule Skinner Blues,” “Deportees,” and of course “This Land is Your Land” sparks memories from the decades when this country’s artists and musicians were poets that represented the rights of people and were not afraid to stand up for their beliefs and protest harmful politics. They were the tearful eyes and honest voice of the common man that was heard and will never be forgotten. Go spend a couple of enjoyable hours listening to the music of a protesting pioneer from the past and it may just be a reminder that we should continue his journey.
WOODY SEZ: THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF WOODY GUTHRIE
The cast of “Woody Sez” features Megan Loomis, David M. Lutken, Helen J. Russell, and Andy Teirstein.
The production features lighting design by Michael Gottlieb, set design by Luke Hegel-Cantarella, costume design by Jeffrey Meek, and music direction by David M. Lutken.
“Woody Sez” plays at Irish Rep Theatre (132 West 22nd Street) on the Francis J. Greenburger Mainstage through Sunday July 23, 2017 on the following schedule: Wednesday at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., Thursday at 7:00 p.m., Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Tickets are $70.00 ($50.00 Rear Seating) and can be obtained by visiting https://irishrep.org/ or by calling Irish Rep at 212-727-2737. Running time is 2 hours with one intermission. Photo: Megan Loomis, Helen Jean Russell, David M. Lutken, and Andy Teirstein. Credit: Carol Rosegg.