Broadway has had a lot of success with the “Jukebox” musical where they take the works of an artist and weave the story of the artist or the group. Notable examples are Beautiful (Carole King) and Jersey Boys (The Four Seasons). Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie devised collaboratively by David M. Lutken with Nick Corley and Darcie Deaville, Helen J. Russell and Andy Tierstein is so much more. Returning to People’s Light in Malvern, Woody Sez directed by Nick Corley tells not only the story of a musical icon, but also the history of a country that often fails those who are most in need.
The musical canon includes songs either written by Guthrie or have become closely associated with him. This wonderful show is not merely about the music. It is about the man. As Woody, David M. Lutken invites us to join him on a journey through America of the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. Lutken is such an incredibly charming and likeable host that the audience is immediately seduced to share his discovery of America through the eyes of its people. He channels not only Guthrie’s charm, but also his devotion to the morality of doing what is right. Lutken uses Guthrie’s classic “Ballad of Tom Joad” as a metaphor for the life of the singer. He divides it into parts to set up a significant moment in his life. Is rendered marvelously by the versatile as well as talented Darcie Deaville.
Each vignette is a layered snapshot of the singer’s journey. The lovely Ms. Deaville is joined by the equally talented Mimi Bessette and an extraordinarily facile Spiff Wiegand. There are no fewer than 10 instruments played with professional dexterity by everyone in the ensemble. I cannot overstate the synergy of these four talented performers. Their energy and commitment to the work pays great dividends for the audience. The show is also enhanced by a wonderfully creative set by Luke Canterella and the beautifully nuanced lighting of Gregory Scott Miller. They create a perfect playground for the performers to tell their stories.
Perhaps the most striking element of the evening is the present-day relevance of Woody’s message. There are so many parallels to problems in present day society that one must marvel at the prescience of Woody Guthrie’s muse. The show runs through August 26th with a free hootenanny every Thursday following the performance. Any time spent with these four gifted artisans is well worth it. For tickets call 610.644.3500 or go to http://www.peopleslight.org.
All photos by Mark Garvin