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“This Play Was Made For You and Me”; Woody Sez: A Review

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Woody Sez at the ATF, Review

A Woody Guthrie Retrospective at the Adirondack Theatre Festival

“Every story needs a jumping off point, and this is what Woody says…”

David M. Lutken in Woody Sez at the Adirondack Theatre FestivalJust as this year’s production of Woody Sez coincided with the centennial celebration of the folk singer’s birth, the final Woody Sez performance concluded the Adirondack Theater’s 18th summer season. A musical biopic of Woody Guthrie’s life, Woody Sez is a production that all Americans, young and old, should see.

At 7:30pm sharp on the last Friday in July, the cast of Woody Sez was already getting the audience to tap their toes as the Charles R. Wood Theater filled up. After a few songs and a short introduction, the foursome – David M. Lutken, Darcie Deaville, Helen-Jean Russell and Andy Tierstein – took their places upon the minimally decorated stage. With only a backdrop of a post-dust-storm Okie farm, a picture or two of Guthrie and a few wooden boxes, it was immediately clear that the talented quartet needed all the room the stage could handle. Lutken was convincing as Guthrie, not only looking the long and lanky part but mastering the pronounced charm Guthrie was so well known for. Deaville, Russell and Tierstein each took turns showing the audience what they were made of, shredding on their acoustic instruments, putting rock stars all over the world to shame.

Serving as the unofficial leader of the folk movement, as well as the working man, Guthrie was a singer/political agitator. He used his music as a means for social protest and Woody Sez used [Guthrie’s] music as a means to tell his story. Over 30 Guthrie songs make up the bulk of the production, chronologically touching upon important moments and hardships in Guthrie’s life. Guthrie’s words and song tell the story of the tougher times – losing a sister in a fire, his mother to Huntington’s disease, the loss of a child, the plight of the worker. Guthrie’s mother, sister, children and friends all make appearances with the help of Lutken’s cast mates, to which they play as seamlessly as they do their various instruments. Songs like “Bound for Glory,” “The Ballad of Tom Joad,” “Vigilante Man,” and “Jolly Banker” give the audience a taste of Guthrie’s folk-empowered style, with “This Land is Your Land” – the song he’s most well-known for, making an appearance.

Guthrie’s life, although heart-breaking at times, is an absolutely fascinating tale. The only catch is Woody Sez works hard to tip-toe over certain areas of Guthrie’s life, watering down Guthrie’s activism and anger with pokey toe-taps, but c’est la [theatrical] vie. Guthrie was not perfect and never pretended to be, and Lutken’s portrayal of the drifter [who married three wives, fathered eight children and died at the untimely age of 55 from the inherited Hutchinson’s disease] was as sweet as Arkie pecan pie. No complaints here though. For a musical interpretation, Woody Sez was never gimmicky or overzealous. Guthrie passed away more than 45 years ago and his music and legacy still resonate today. Woody Sez is as much an ode to Woody as it is to America.

Aubree Cutkomp is an Assistant Editor for The Free George.

The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.

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