COME MEET WOODY GUTHRIE, THE MAN AND THE MUSIC

 

By Bonnie Goldberg

If your mama names you after a president, you might feel an obligation to make your life a little more meaningful and special. Maybe that's what inspired Woodrow Wilson Guthrie to make such a joyous noise unto the Lord with his thousands of songs, folk tunes about his growing up years in Oklahoma's Dust Bowl, political, children's, songs of wanderlust and traveling, songs of peace and against war, social justice and even songs with a Jewish flavor. None of his verses is more well known than "This Land Is Your Land," that he penned in 1940, considered one of folk music's most famous tunes. Even that was a protest against the sentiment he heard in Irving Berlin's "God Bless America."

To learn about the man Woody Guthrie and his life and his music, mosey on over to TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl Street, Hartford for "Woody Sez" until Sunday, September 14. The opportunity to make the acquaintance of this unusual talent is yours for the taking and you will be the richer for saying "Howdy" and metaphorically shaking Woody's hand.

The team of David M. Lutken and Nick Corley gets full credit for this production which they conceived together. Lutken stars as the prosaic philosophizing guitar playing guy who was compelled to ramble across the country and write about all he saw and all the people he met along the way. Nick Corley sets his hand to directing this impassioned yet humble tale, of a man and the music he had to make.

Think of Woody Guthrie as an amalgam of Will Rogers and Pete Seeger, a man filled with words and sentiments which he put into poems, plays, letters, a newspaper column called "Woody Sez," song lyrics as well as novels and artwork. He suffered many tragic losses in his life as well as great happiness. They translated into his writings. As Woody says himself, "There's a feeling in music and it carries you back down the road you have traveled and makes you travel it again. Sometimes when I hear music I think back over my days -- and a feeling that is fifty-fifty joy and pain swells like clouds taking all kinds of shapes in my mind."

Accompanying Woody's character on stage are musicians David Finch, Leenya Rideout and Helen J. Russell, who create a powerful storm of sound with almost three dozen tunes. Some highlights include "This Train Is Bound for Glory," "Sinking of the Reuben James," "The Ballad of Tom Joad," "Riding In My Car," and, of course, "This Land Is Your Land."

For tickets ($50-65, seniors $35 at Wednesday and Saturday matinees), call TheaterWorks at 860-527-7838 or online at www.theaterworkshartford.org. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 p.m., plus a Wednesday matinee September 10 at 11 a.m. for children, who are free that day. A sing-along jam session, Hootenanny Sundays, are open to all, free, bring a musical instrument, at 4:45 p.m. each Sunday. Visit the gallery upstairs that is showcasing a varied display of musical instruments.

On September 23, a 3-CD Deluxe Audio Book, narrated by daughter Nora Guthrie will be released, entitled "My Name Is New York", ramblin' around Woody Guthrie's town.  Look for it.

Come meet Woody, his guitar and his friends in this special and moving musical tribute to the Oklahoma troubadour.

 

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