The opening of the Adirondack Theatre Festival production of WOODY SEZ was my first visit to the Charles Wood Theatre, but it certainly won’t be my last. The theatre building is fascinating. Created in the old Woolworth Building, the upper and lower lobbies are filled with artifacts and historical exhibits, so when you go allow time to explore. The theatre itself has excellent sight lines and very comfortable seats.
As for WOODY SEZ, it’s subtitled “The Life & Music of Woody Guthrie” and that’s exactly what it is. Devised by David M. Lutkin with Nick Corley and directed by Mr. Corley, it tells the story of Woody’s life through narration and his songs, interspersed with a few dialogue scenes, primarily between Woody and his mother.
Luke Hegel-Cantarella’s set, a series of low platforms and boxes, is backed by a drop of three large photos of farms in the dust bowl era, with smaller photos hanging in front. The set decoration consists of the instruments used by the four actors, 20 in all – 22 if you count the two Irish soup spoons.
Matt Frey’s original lighting, adapted for this production by Jason E. Weber, is excellent especially the Act I finale and the Act II opening. Jeffrey Meek’s costumes, in particular the ladies’ period housedresses, are just fine.
The four cast members are all good actors and very accomplished musicians, switching instruments with ease on the more than 30 songs. Helen Jean Russell is very moving as Woody’s troubled mother and also terrific on bass in “Do Re Mi.” Darcie Deaville does a great job on “The Ballad of Tom Joad,” and cuts loose in Act II with a show-stopping fiddle solo. David Finch expertly plays just about everything including jaw harp and spoons. He’s especially good on “Talkin’ Dust Bowl.”
David M. Lutkin, who handles the play’s narration with laid-back ease, has also done a fine job as Music Director. The instrumentation and vocal blend are both great. Best of all, it’s acoustic with no amplification and every word is clear. He does an exceptionally powerful job on the solo “I Ain’t Got No Home.”
Director Nick Corley has staged the material very well, keeping it smoothly active through all the scenes and instrument changes. We never lose focus on Woody’s story, music and ideas. The joyful finale brought a tear to my eye.
WOODY SEZ makes you realize that we could use many of Woody’s ideas and songs in our current climate – and I’m not just referring to the drought. The “Occupy” movement embodies one of his lines that struck me: “I began to see the difference between wanting something to stop and wanting to stop it.” In any case, he wrote terrific songs and, to quote Mr. Lutkin, “Woody wanted his music to speak for those neglected and disregarded voices around us and within us.” WOODY SEZ is a solid and inspiring evening of good music and good theatre, celebrating a man who influenced not only music, but the times he lived in.
On a scale of one to five the Adirondack Theatre Festival production of WOODY SEZ gets five Woolworth lunch counters. For North Country Public Radio I’m Connie Meng.