New “Woody Sez” Press!

FIVE STARS 82x15 in DC METRO THEATRE ARTS and a great feature in The Forward

The Arty Semite

Woody Guthrie Gets Onstage Musical Treatment

By Lisa Traiger

      Woody Guthrie sang of America’s “redwood forests” and “gulf stream waters.” The traveling troubadour and American folk poet electrified a nation with his paeans to America’s indomitable spirit and beauty.


David Lutken as Woody Guthrie in ‘Woody Sez.’

Oklahoma-born and Texas-raised, he also ignited mighty debates with songs and writings that took on the establishment and sought to elevate the working masses. His guitar bore the message: “This machine kills fascists.” And he even has a Jewish connection, that lives on in some of his music and his ideals.

His baldly patriotic hymn to his country, “This Land Is Your Land,” features a stanza that states: “In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people, / By the relief office I seen my people; / As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking / Is this land made for you and me?”

Guthrie’s songs, spirit and life have been brought to the stage in a 90-minute musical biography written and performed by actor and musician David Lutken. His “Woody Sez,” developed with Nick Corley, tells the singer/songwriter’s story in song.

“Growing up in Texas I learned a lot of folk songs that had to do with the West and with America,” Lutken said. “Woody Guthrie was right in there. I didn’t know at the time when I was singing his ‘Take Me Riding in the Car Car’ when I was 5 that that was job training.” The show premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe festival in 2007 and has since toured the U.S. and beyond. It returns to Washington, D.C.’sTheater J through December 14 and then moves to Milwaukee Repertory Theater in January.

A proletarian poet, Guthrie developed a deep and abiding relationship with Jews and Jewish virtues through his marriage to modern dancer Marjorie Mazia. Eventually the couple settled in a house on Mermaid Avenue, not far from Guthrie’s Yiddish-speaking in-laws on Coney Island. In fact, composer and instrumentalist Andy Teirstein, who performs in the show, said Guthrie took Judaism classes at Brooklyn College and had Shabbos dinners at home. His mother-in-law, Aliza Greenblatt, was a kindred spirit. The Yiddish poet and the Okie with a guitar found common ground in writing.

Read more here.

‘Woody Sez: The Life & Music of Woody Guthrie’ at Theater J

Director Nick Corley lets the music speak for itself in Theater J’s production ofWoody Sez, a story about famed American folk musician Woody Guthrie. There is simple but effective set design (Dust Bowl landscapes and pictures of Woody Guthrie) by Scenic Designer Luke Hegel-Cantarella, lighting by Garth Dolan, and costumes by Jeffrey Meek. There are no microphones or amps, just acoustic instruments – and lots of them. With no less than 15 string instruments on stage helping to create the set, the atmosphere is both simple and yet deeply impressive. A tiny cast of only four talented musicians/singers – David M. Lutken, David Finch, Leenya Rideout, and Helen Jean Russell – handle over thirty songs at a skill level which is a true ode to the level of talent of Woody Guthrie himself. They play numerous instruments ranging from the guitar, ukulele, bass, violin, banjo, and so many others.

Back to front: David Finch, Leenya Rideout, Helen Jean Russell, and David M. Lutken at The Cleveland Play House. Photo by Roger Mastroianni.

Back to front: David Finch, Leenya Rideout, Helen Jean Russell, and David M. Lutken at The Cleveland Play House. Photo by Roger Mastroianni.

My exposure to Guthrie’s music dates mostly back to learning “This Land is My Land” in elementary school, so I always dismissed his music as being cute and frothy. Boy was I wrong! Guthrie was a fighter who sang about the struggles of an era. He told stories of real people struggling to pay rent, losing their houses. He sang of the depression, hard economic times, and union struggles. When I click on the radio now I mostly hear songs about sex and making it rich. I relate to Guthrie’s music more. Songs like “I Ain’t Got No Home,” or “Going Down That Road Feelin’ Bad” hit me right in the gut. Over the last few years as hard economic times have once more washed over America, Guthrie’s music is surprising relevant – maybe even more so than what many modern musicians are writing and recording.

What Woody Sez captures best is Guthrie’s talent to create music that speaks to the surrounding wrongs whilst still lifting the spirit-not an easy task to do. Lead actor David M. Lutken managers to charm and make the audience smile, even while singing about tragedy and homelessness as in “Dust Storm Disaster,” and “I Ain’t Got No Home” – making him more than worthy of his Helen Hayes Award win for Best Actor in a Resident Musical. Theater J supports the production’s concept of finding joy through life’s struggles, by holding a number of hootenannys throughout the production run – chances for the audience to come together and participate in creating this spirited music for each other.

From left: David Finch, David M. Lutken (as Woody Guthrie), Helen Jean Russell ,and Leenya Rideout.Photo by Roger Mastroianni.

Woody Sez is a perfect pick for a cold winter’s night when we need  a reminder that music can uplift us through the hard times.