Sound tribute to America’s folk troubador
David Finch (from left), David Lutken, Helen Jean Russell and Darcie Deaville star in “Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie" at Northlight Theatre.
‘Woody Sez — The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie’
Northlight Theatre, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie
Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m. (except Oct. 2 and 16); Wednesdays at 1 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. (except Oct. 10); Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays at 8 p.m.; Saturdays at 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Sundays at 2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. (except Oct. 7 and 21), throuh Oct. 21
$25-$72. Student tickets are $15, any performance, subject to availability.
(847) 673-6300 or visit www.northlight.org
Hootenannies, informal post-show “jam sessions” with the artists from the production, will be held following the performances Sept. 30 (after 7 p.m.), Oct. 7 (after 2:30 p.m.) and Oct. 14 (after 7 p.m.). Audience members are invited to bring their own instruments and join the artists onstage to play for approximately one hour after the performance.
Updated: September 25, 2012 12:19AM
With the affable, easy-listening “Woody Sez,” Northlight Theatre offers a revue that ably captures the music if not the complexity of the man behind such iconic folk ballads as “This Land is Your Land” and “This Train is Bound for Glory.”
With more than two dozen songs compiled into 90 minutes of musical biography, the piece at times errs on the side of hokey when it should be consistently, defiantly heroic. Guthrie, who mined the endless tragedies of the Great Depression and the wastelands of the Dust Bowl for his material, became a folk legend whose music crafted a history of the United States that paints a harrowing contrast to the myth of the land of endless plenty.
His life was also rife with enough tragedy.
He was still a teenager when his mother Nora, died in a mental hospital, a victim of the debilitating Huntington’s disease. Guthrie himself, after nearly 40 years also ended his life institutionalized, having fallen prey to the same devastating neurological disorder that claimed his mother.
In between those deaths, Guthrie faced three divorces, the loss of a child to fire, a maiming fire accident that left him, still in his 40s, unable to ever play the guitar again. During his years as a roving balladeer for the down and out, he crisscrossed the country, finding art and raising consciousness in the stories of migrants, breadlines and the dispossessed.
In the piece devised by director Nick Corley and David M. Lutken (who plays Guthrie and also serves as music director), Guthrie’s music is ably wound around simplistic snippets from his life.
The reason to see the show is for the music, wonderfully realized by a quartet including Lutken, Darcie Deaville, David Finch and Helen Jean Russell. The multi-instrumentalists and singers perform on a marvelous range of stringed instruments — bass, banjo, 12- and six-string guitars, autoharp — with Finch even breaking out a set of spoons at one point and orchestrating a snappy small miracle of percussion with them.
Among the most haunting of the tunes is “I Ain’t Got No Home,” an aching ode to hard work, harder luck and endlessly wearying itinerancy.
On Luke Hegel-Cantarella’s spare set, stark photos of arid farmland-turned-wasteland becomes memorably backlit with the sorrow-steeped “Dust Storm Disaster” and “Talkin’ Dust Bowl,” creating a combination of song and visuals that’s memorable indeed.
Lutken makes a congenial Guthrie, and is in fine voice throughout but like the biographical material, but his embodiment of the folk hero is painted with the broadest brush strokes. Punctuated with sound-byte sayings, “Woody Sez” has the sound but not the depth of spirit of its hero. This is also a near-sure fire hit for Northlight — the musicians’ enthusiasm for their material is infectious and their delivery of it impeccable. Factor in some more substantive history and Woody Sez would be formidable.